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  • 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.

  • They're Playing with Fire (1984) Blu-ray Review

    They’re Playing with Fire (1984)

    Director: Howard Avedis

    Starring: Sybil Danning, Eric Brown, Andrew Prine & Paul Clemens

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Combining skin and thrills, They’re Playing with Fire stars Sybil Danning (Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf) as a sultry college professor who seduces a horny student (Eric Brown, Private Lessons), entangling him in a dangerous plot to obtain her in-laws wealthy inheritance.  Andrew Prine (Amityville II: The Possession) and Paul Clemens (The Beast Within) costar.

    Shrouded as a wild sex-romp in tune with most young men’s desires, They’re Playing with Fire, albeit being very tantalizing, pulls the carpet under its audience in one of the oddest genre switch ups of the decade.  Incessantly drooling over his foxy professor, Mrs. Diane Stevens, and performing odd jobs aboard her luxurious yacht, college student Jay Richard’s lusting pays off when seduced by the blonde bombshell.  Unknowingly plotting a scheme with her husband Michael (Prine) to inherit his family riches from her in-laws, a virtually harmless crack at prowling to scare off the elderly Stevens’ backfires on Jay when a masked assailant ruthlessly knocks off Michael’s mother and grandmother instead.  Trapping him in a seductive love triangle with life or death stakes, Jay’s hormonal jackpot grows grayer by the day.  Regarded as exploitation royalty, Sybil Danning makes mouths water with her fiercely flirtatious performance and sizzling nude sequences that, much to the delight of teenage boys during the video boom, are plentiful.  In a deliriously unexpected spin for viewers assuming the plot from its provocative poster art, They’re Playing with Fire morphs into an erotically-charged thriller with slasher elements that pollinate the film with bloody bursts of violence catching first time watchers off guard.  Helmed by Howard Avedis (Scorchy, Mortuary), They’re Playing with Fire, rightly earning Danning one of her finest performances in a career of countlessly sexy and sleazy roles, is a wild effort right down to its even kookier reveal of the true murderer that is as unusually different as it is libido driving.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics upgrades They’re Playing with Fire with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Revealing satisfying layers of detail in facial features, skin tones are sound with Danning certainly showing off her fair share during the film’s many moments of passion.  Meanwhile, costumes, background pieces and bolder colored vehicles pop quite decently with the film’s source material arriving in tiptop shape and generally free of any unsavory scratches.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles character exchanges, both in intimate, hushed tones and louder barroom environments, nicely while, music cues are well orchestrated and ear-pleasing.  Special features include, Sun & Seduction with Sybil Danning (18:25) where the still mightily attractive lead reveals she landed the role based on her appearance in Playboy Magazine and her initial concerns that the script was overly convoluted.  Furthermore, Danning recalls many a fan encounters where the film played heavily into their puberty and instances of teens stealing the videotape from their fathers!  The genre titan, although finding him cute, reveals costar Eric Brown made the shoot difficult due to his unwillingness to be nude in the film.  Lastly, Trailers for They’re Playing with Fire (1:25), The Bitch (2:38) and The Stud (2:52) conclude the disc’s supplements.

    Beloved by Mr. Skin himself and most young men who experienced the film’s sumptuous offerings during its heyday, They’re Playing with Fire offers plenty of bare-breasted Sybil Danning and a chameleon-like plot that supplies an alarmingly fun touch of slasher elements for fans of the decade’s body count pictures.  A career high for the buxom B-movie queen, carnal delights never tasted this sweet or deadly before her voluptuous college professor wraps her legs around such impressionable hound dogs.  KL Studio Classics’ high-def handling of the sexy sizzler is a solid boost in quality with Danning’s newly recorded chatty sit-down a fine inclusion.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, They’re Playing with Fire can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Chamber of Horrors (1940) Blu-ray Review

    Chamber of Horrors (1940)

    Director: Norman Lee

    Starring: Leslie Banks, Lilli Palmer, Gina Malo & Conny Van Dyke

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Imported by Poverty Row distributor Monogram Pictures shortly after a British band on horror fare was lifted, the adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s The Door with Seven Locks, retitled to the more attention-grabbing Chamber of Horrors for American shores is a convoluted labyrinth of intrigue that thrives on its solid atmosphere.  Following the passing of a wealthy lord who’s entombed with a treasure of jewels requiring seven keys to undo its locks, the unlikely heiress to his fortune, June Lansdowne (Lilli Palmer, The House That Screamed), finds herself and those closest to her entangled in a tortuous web of murder and deceit.  Hamming it up nicely as the suspected Dr. Manetta (Leslie Banks, The Most Dangerous Game) whose affection for collecting historical torture devices is far from subtle, Chamber of Horrors plays more directly as a murder mystery than its more garish title suggests although, a prominent chamber where artifacts of death are on display serves as host to some of the film’s more memorable and revealing sequences.  Jaw-droppingly beautiful and injecting a fearless sense of adventure into her role, Lilli Palmer does admirably in her headlining performance contrary to early criticisms at the time of the film’s release.  Occasionally heavy-handed and bewildering in its explanations for the criminal parties seeking to make the riches their own, Chamber of Horrors may not be all that’s expected of it and instead better appreciated as a complex whodunit with effective shades of ghastly set pieces.

    KL Studio Classics presents Chamber of Horrors newly remastered with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Commonly sporting sporadic instances of scratches and vertical lines, overblown white levels, presumably from overexposed film elements or harsher onset lighting, casts many moments in a bright wash that takes away from the atmospheric setting and corresponding details.  Otherwise, black levels spotted in costumed attire are as deep as one might expect while, facial closeups of the thespians capture respectable intricacies.  Surely the elements are far from pristine but, the upgraded high-definition picture is the best a feature of this ilk will ever look.  Matched with a rather problematic DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 that relays inconsistent dialogue levels that range from clear to muffled and echoey, static is also present requiring essential volume increases and a sharp ear to collect all the track has to offer.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian David Del Valle and Filmmaker Kenneth J. Hall that finds genre enthusiast Del Valle right at home dishing one intriguing anecdote after another with Hall complimenting the conversation nicely.  A horror aficionado like no other, Del Valle’s infectious love for the genre and his well-prepared words are always a treat to listen to for likeminded viewers.  Finally, Trailers for White Zombie (2:46), The Black Sleep (1:36), The Undying Monster (1:04) and Donovan’s Brain (2:02) are also included alongside Reversible Cover Art.  An acceptable investigative thriller that only trips up due to its own narrative complexities, Chamber of Horrors comes cautiously recommend for those knowing more or less what’s in store while, the expert commentary track provided is worth the price alone.

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • Invisible Ghost (1941) Blu-ray Review

    Invisible Ghost (1941)

    Director: Joseph H. Lewis

    Starring: Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire & Clarence Muse

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The first of nine Monogram Pictures features produced by genre dabbler and schlockmeister Sam Katzman (Earth VS. The Flying Saucers, The Giant Claw), Invisible Ghost combines the realms of psychological horror and the murder mystery for an evocative gothic fused tale guided by one of the genre’s finest presences.  Continuing to mourn the loss of his unfaithful wife, the friendly Mr. Kessler (Bela Lugosi, Dracula) is plagued with homicidal urges after being hypnotized by the image of his wife who, unbeknownst to the good doctor, lives in secret in their cellar.  As several murders take place at Kessler’s estate with his daughter’s (Polly Ann Young in her final film role) beau wrongly sentenced to death for them, the convicted’s twin brother (John McGuire of Sands of Iowa Jima fame playing double duty as both Ralph and Paul Dickinson) arrives on the scene searching for answers.  Predominately set at the scene of the crimes, Invisible Ghost juggles its approaches in terror efficiently with its rather absurd premise of fatal secrets and a hallucinatory tone taken seriously by its players.  Turning an otherwise monotonous role into a worthy watch, Bela Lugosi dominates the film with his Jekyll & Hydish personality and striking stare making his juxtaposition as a loving father to an oblivious sinister strangler a grisly delight.  Easily digestible and enjoyably spooky, Invisible Ghost remains a well-constructed and moody descent into unknowing madness.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics presents Invisible Ghost with a 1080p transfer, retaining its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Expected of lower-budgeted cheapies from the era, the black-and-white photography bears several instances of film degradation in the later portion of the film while, the overwhelming majority of its hour long runtime greatly impresses with striking black levels observed during nighttime sequences and in the suits of the actors.  In addition, detail seen in closeups of Lugosi as he slowly descends upon his sleeping maid are excellent and earn the transfer its highest marks of quality.  Equipped with a serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is handled decently with “S” sounds registering particularly sharp while, a mild surface of hiss is detected throughout.  Supplemental material includes, an Audio Commentary with Film Historians Tom Weaver, Gary Rhodes & Dr. Robert J. Kiss that finds Weaver predominately guiding the well-researched track with Rhodes and Kiss relegated to guest appearances that still add quality value to their portions of the film.  Lastly, Trailers for White Zombie (2:46), The Black Sleep (1:36), The Undying Monster (1:04) and Donovan’s Brain (2:02) are also included.  Graciously handled to the best of their abilities, KL Studio Classics brings Invisible Ghost back from the dead much to the appreciation of Lugosi completists.  A juggling act of horror approaches that give the film a peculiar style and iconic star with plenty to chew into, Invisible Ghost is a gothic gas worth being hypnotized by.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, Invisible Ghost 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.

  • The Survivor (1981) Blu-ray Review

    The Survivor (1981)

    Director: David Hemmings

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

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • The Internecine Project (1974) Blu-ray Review

    The Internecine Project (1974)

    Director: Ken Hughes

    Starring: James Coburn, Lee Grant, Harry Andrews, Michael Jayston, Christiane Kruger & Keenan Wynn

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When former secret agent Professor Robert Elliot (James Coburn, The Great Escape) is offered the prestigious position of advisor to the President of the United States, The Internecine Project explores his devious plot to exterminate the few with knowledge of his dark past.  Lee Grant (Damian: Omen II), Harry Andrews (Moby Dick), Michael Jayston (Zulu Dawn), Christiane Kruger (Mother) and Keenan Wynn (Point Blank) costar.

    Co-scripted and produced by Barry Levinson (Who?), The Internecine Project is an intricately plotted examination of corruption, espionage and murder in the pursuit of power and greed.  Continuing his ascension in the political stratosphere, Professor Robert Elliot welcomes the coveted role of advisor to the President with pleasure.  Pleased with the life changing opportunity, Elliot, a former secret agent with skeletons in his closet, quickly realizes that with every achievement comes backlash from others.  Devising a grand plan to eliminate four individuals that could potentially threaten his future, the soon-to-be advisor intends to rid them all in a single evening.  Expertly crafted with no loose ends leading back to its puppet master, civil servant Alex Hellman (Ian Hendry, Repulsion), elderly masseur Bert Parsons (Andrews), high-end hooker Christina Larsson (Kruger) and diabetic scientist David Baker (Jayston), all fall for Elliot’s scheme, unknowingly offing one another consecutively.  Providing each individual with detailed instructions while playing a clever game of phone tag with Elliot each step of the way to report their progress, the diverse quartet find themselves picked off by a deadly injection of insulin and a fatal frequency of sound waves among other tragedies.  An intriguing premise with the always dependable Coburn leading the pack, The Internecine Project leaves much to wonder about Elliot’s past while his hunger for control remains his main source of fuel.  A product of its time that handles suspense sufficiently with an unexpected albeit, karma-serving conclusion, The Internecine Project may be too vague for some while, satisfying others with its devotion to fiendish plots.

    Leaping to high-definition, KL Studio Classics presents The Internecine Project with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Softly photographed with fleeting instances of scuffs, colors are satisfactory with natural appearances in skin tones and respective details preserved.  Not a particularly vivid-looking feature, darker levels found in Elliot’s quiet study and the night time homicides carried out by the supporting cast are well-handled under intended low lighting.  Overall, the Ken Hughes thriller makes an agreeable debut on the format.  Joined by a decent DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is efficiently relayed while, the scoring cues of Roy Bud (Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger) make their point in bulking up the film’s tenser moments.  Far from a sonically-charged sound mix, the track achieves the necessary.  Ported over from Scorpion Releasing’s previous DVD release, special features consist of Decoding the Project: Conversation with Writer Jonathan Lynn (18:47) where Lynn discusses taking the project on for free since he had no credits at the time, his fond memories of Levinson and the changes made following Director Ken Hughes’s involvement.  Lastly, a Trailer Gallery featuring The Internecine Project (3:00), Harry in Your Pocket (1:59), Loophole (1:26) and The Naked Face (2:10) conclude the supplements.

    While power is central to Elliot’s endgame, The Internecine Project feels one-sided with so little known about the dirt threatening his career, leaving the brutal and occasionally silly murders as the film’s true calling card.  Coburn is expectedly aces in the lead role with a twisty conclusion that could have felt even more heightened provided more substance to the brilliantly lethal professor was spared.  Carrying over the previously available interview with Screenwriter Jonathan Lynn, KL Studio Classics sees the film receives respectable hi-def treatment.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, The Internecine Project can be purchased via KinoLorber.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.

  • Who? (1975) Blu-ray Review

    Who? (1975)

    Director: Jack Gold

    Starring: Elliot Gould, Trevor Howard, Joseph Bova, Edward Grover & James Noble

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the disappearance of a noted American scientist after a near fatal wreck in the Soviet Union, Who? finds the survivor reappearing unrecognizable as a robotic-hybrid of his former self.  Tasked with determining the true identity of this metallic being, FBI agent Sean Rogers (Elliot Gould, The Long Goodbye) remains cautiously unsure whether who stands before him is the wounded scientist or an elaborate rouse by Russian forces.  Trevor Howard (Meteor), Joseph Bova (Serpico), Edward Grover (Death Wish) and James Noble (Benson) costar.

    Based on the sci-fi novel by Algis Budrys, Who? stages a tediously dull thriller of uncertain identities and international espionage, brought to life by performances as yawningly robotic as the film’s scientist in metal clothing.  After American scientist and leader of the confidential Neptune Project, Lucas Martino (Bova), vanishes following a deadly car crash along the Soviet border, the thought to be dead professor emerges with his brain and right arm intact whereas the remainder of his body is of robotic material.  Escorted back to the custody of domestic agencies, FBI agent Sean Rogers is all but certain Martino is not who he says he is.  Part paranoid and inclined to trust his instincts, Rogers, through countless interrogations and investigations into the roboman’s past, must determine the truth including the likelihood of Russian intelligence attempting to obtain more information on the Neptune Project.  Juxtaposing between the FBI and the Soviet’s time with the robot assumed to be Martino, Who? is a slow-burn that stumbles to remain interesting or exciting with the exception of a far too short airport runway car chase.  Unintentionally silly in its roboman design and doused in somber tones leaving the film cold to the touch, Who? sounds far more intriguing than it is entertaining resulting in an otherwise forgettable curiosity piece.

    KL Studio Classics presents Who? with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Containing numerous instances of scratches, speckles and cigarette burns to varying degrees, picture quality falls generally softer with black levels, evident in the film’s opening border exchange of Martino, leaving more to be desired.  In addition, skin tones are handled decently while, detail is not of the sharpest caliber with colors occasionally failing to remain consistent.  Although its elements appear to not be the most well maintained, the high-definition transfer remains of average grade.  Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 that neither gravely disappoints or overwhelming satisfies, dialogue is efficiently exchanged with cracks and pops present mostly during reel changes.  Meanwhile, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Jack Gold, moderated by Film Historian Anthony Sloman.  Finally, a Trailer Gallery consisting of The Long Goodbye (2:31), Busting (2:45), The Offence (1:51) and The Naked Face (2:10) conclude the disc’s supplemental package.

    An intriguing premise that lacks style, Who? short-circuits quickly turning a quality cast into a siege of wooden performances, chalking this Cold War thriller into a battle badly lost.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, KL Studio Classics brings the peculiar spy feature to hi-def with passable grades that bare their fair share of battle wounds yet, get the job done all the same.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, Who? can be purchased via KinoLorber.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.

  • Morgan (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Morgan (2016)

    Director: Luke Scott

    Starring: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Toby Jones, Rose Leslie, Boyd Holbrook, Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh & Paul Giamatti

    Released by: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Concocted in a secret laboratory, Morgan finds the groundbreaking development of a genetically engineered human (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch) crashing down when a shocking series of events unfolds.  Professionally and emotionally conflicted, her scientific creators must determine whether their advancements outweigh their own livelihoods.  Kate Mara (The Martian), Toby Jones (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones), Boyd Holbrook (Gone Girl), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) and Paul Giamatti (Billions) star.

    Marking the feature-length directorial debut of Luke Scott and produced by father Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner), Morgan scratches the very real surface of genetic evolution and the equally troubling questions of playing maker to artificial life.  Following a violent attack on a fellow scientist, risk-assessment specialist Lee Weathers (Mara) is summoned by superiors to the remote location of the incident.  Developed and studied for several years by a core group of researchers, the human hybrid creation known as Morgan is closely monitored following her unexpected outburst as Weathers evaluates the teenage-looking subject and the operation at large.  As the staff find themselves blindsided by their own emotional connection to the experiment they view as kin, Weathers’s judgement remains reserved until a psychological analysis on Morgan finds a provoking doctor brutally killed.  Convinced Morgan and the entire project should be terminated, Weathers finds herself at odds with a disagreeable staff and an unpredictable Morgan, now on the run and exacting revenge on those who stand in her way.  Featuring strong performances from the ensemble cast and a thoroughly thrilling tone, Morgan may not be revolutionary in its narrative yet, keeps viewers invested in its proceedings that deliver with well-done combat choreography and respectably violent bloodshed.  Performing abysmally to box-office expectations, Morgan, possessing noticeable hints of the Scott touch and featuring a pleasing, if not seen before twist of a finale, may not have found its audience theatrically but, suffices as an efficient first stab at science-fiction for the younger Scott.

    20th Century Fox Home Entertainment presents Morgan with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Featuring color grades that range from dim and sterile as seen in the film’s many laboratory scenes and earthy observed throughout the exteriors shot in Northern Ireland, the film impresses with its handling of inky black levels and handsome skin tones that observes Morgan’s powdered complexion very well.  While not an eye-popping but rather effectively subdued presentation, Morgan offers a strong high-definition picture true to its visual aesthetic.  Equipped with a well-constructed DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is crystal throughout while, nature ambiance, echoing gunshots in the wilderness and high-speed vehicles all make sturdy statements on this exceptional track.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Luke Scott, Modified Organism: The Science Behind Morgan (19:40) which hosts scientific experts in the field of genetics as well as cast and crew discussing the film’s approach, Deleted Scenes (6:03) with optional audio commentary from Director Luke Scott and Loom (20:27), Scott’s short film that also comes with an optional audio commentary from its maker.  In addition, a Still Gallery (45 in total), Trailers (4:07) and Sneak Peeks (11:08) at a Discover Digital HD Promo, Assassin’s Creed, X-Men: Apocalypse, The Martian and Deadpool round out the on-disc offerings.  Lastly, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also included.

    A respectably well-paced thriller, Morgan may not be the next great chapter in science-fiction masterpieces in lieu of a concept audiences have seen all too recently yet, its box-office failure is also no indication of its otherwise admirable execution.  With expectations calculated accordingly, Morgan is a dangerous experiment worthy of exploration.  Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment ushers the film to high-definition with exacting technical merits and a decent spread of bonus features including Scott’s first short film.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Morgan can be purchased via FoxConnect.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Park Is Mine (1985) Blu-ray Review

    The Park Is Mine (1985)

    Director: Steven Hilliard Stern

    Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Helen Shaver & Yaphet Kotto

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the suicide of his fellow solider, The Park Is Mine centers on a disgruntled Vietnam war veteran (Tommy Lee Jones, No Country for Old Men) whose disappointment in his country’s respect for vets turns dangerous.  Staging an elaborate take over of New York’s Central Park, the ex-solider’s attempt to bring attention to the bigger issues are met with resistance by the city’s police force and equally skilled commandos.  Helen Shaver (The Believers) and Yaphet Kotto (Alien) costar.

    A surprising made-for-TV effort that exudes cinematic flair, The Park Is Mine, a byproduct of the era’s lucrative Canadian tax-shelter program and a home video mainstay guaranteed to be seen in local shops’ action sections, manages to pack a suspense-filled feature of firepower.  Based on the book by Stephen Peters while deviating from its source’s much darker tones and casting a far more humble light upon its protagonist, The Park Is Mine finds jobless and directionless war veteran Mitch (Jones) grieving over the loss of his former brother-in-arms and uncovering his friend’s unfulfilled attempt to make the masses reappraise their view of sacrificing soldiers.  Examining his fallen comrade’s detailed plans and already implemented tactics to successfully take over the city’s expansive Central Park, Mitch, equally dissatisfied with his own life’s hand, takes command of the operation.  Decorated in war paint, a Yankees hat and heavily loaded with artillery and explosives, Mitch’s terroristic takeover is met with unsuccessful thwarts by New York’s finest before the city’s under appreciated citizens see the system-shaker as a hometown hero.  While the film is complimented with supporting turns by Yaphet Kotto, a pillar of police procedurals and gangster pictures as a cautious officer, Helen Shaver as a daring news camerawoman who gets personally embroiled in Mitch’s one-man war and Gale Garnett (Mad Monster Party) as Mitch’s estranged wife who supplies unintentionally welcome comic relief as she hassles her husband with phone calls during his coup, Tommy Lee Jones’ performance single-handedly dominates the film with the precise blending of a calculated war expert and the shakiness of a distressed man winging his uncertain actions.  Climaxing with a fatal showdown against deadly mercenaries, The Park Is Mine may keep its bodycount low but maintains a tight pace and explosively well-handled action set pieces.  Further cementing its big-screen aura, Tangerine Dream’s (Thief, Risky Business) electronically-charged score adds a cherry-topping flavor to this effectively dramatic showcase of urban warfare and anti-heroes defending their turf and wrongly overlooked commitments to their country.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents The Park Is Mine with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Excusing minor instances of speckling, natural grain is apparent and most pleasing while, skin tones are nicely preserved with Mitch’s fading warpaint and perspiration also well-detailed.  In addition, colors found in Central Park’s robust greenery and the police officer’s bullet-proof vests pop strongly with nighttime sequences demonstrating easy-to-see black levels throughout.  Although several quick drops in volume occur during a diner sequence between Shaver and her colleague, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 handles the duration of all other dialogue with crispness and clarity while, the film’s machine gun blasts and other explosions make respectable racket on the track.  Meanwhile, Tangerine Dream’s underrated synth-score is nothing short of a listening pleasure whenever its head is reared.  Special features include, a highly informative Audio Commentary with Film Historian Nathaniel Thompson that covers the intriguing background of the film’s Canadian production backers, the tonal and character development changes made between the book and its adaptation plus, the onscreen acting talent and plenty of other worthy film recommendations that come up in discussion.  Furthermore, Trailers for The Park Is Mine (2:08), Blown Away (1:35), The Package (2:18), Report to the Commissioner (2:21) & Busting (2:45) round out the on-disc supplements with a Reversible Cover Art also on hand.

    Impressing with its big-screen bravado, superior acting talent and choice score compliments of electronic mavericks Tangerine Dream, The Park Is Mine appears more brutal than what is presented while orchestrating well-conceived suspense and a vastly underrated turn from Jones.  Airing on HBO and routinely stocked on video store shelves before their decline, The Park Is Mine remains a worthy thriller to take to the front lines.  A most welcome addition to their wildly diverse catalog, KL Studio Classics salutes this Vietnam vet feature with a top-notch HD debut and a valued commentary track, as informative as its film is entertaining.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, The Park Is Mine can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Doomwatch (1972) Blu-ray Review

    Doomwatch (1972)

    Director: Peter Sasdy

    Starring: Ian Bannen, Judy Geeson, John Paul, Simon Oates, Jean Trend, Joby Blanshard, George Sanders, Percy Herbert, Geoffrey Keen, Joseph O’Connor & Shelagh Fraser

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When citizens of a small island community develop aggressive behavior and monstrous disfigurements, Doomwatch finds the determined Dr. Del Shaw (Ian Bannen, The Flight of the Phoenix) and local schoolteacher Victoria Brown (Judy Geeson, The Lords of Salem) risking their lives to uncover the horrifying truth.  Costarring the likes of John Paul (A Countess from Hong Kong), Simon Oates (The Terrornauts) and George Sanders (The Jungle Book), Hammer horror veteran Peter Sasdy (Countess Dracula, Hands of the Ripper) directs.

    Spun-off from the short-lived BBC series of the same name while serving little to no consequence for the uninitiated, Doomwatch relegates several cast regulars to supporting parts in exchange for headliners Bannen and Geeson to pave a new path for its big-screen opus.  Marketed with an enticing campaign in tune with its director’s more horror-oriented efforts, Doomwatch’s environmentally cautious tale pits anti-pollution scientist Dr. Del Shaw on an investigation off the island village of Balfe where the citizens have demonstrated peculiar behavior and even more questionable physical changes.  While the townsfolk hold firm to their belief that their sickly states are God’s punishments for generations of inbreeding, Shaw suspects radioactive waste and illegal dumping in their surrounding waters to be the root of the problem.  Untrusted by the masses with many debilitating into murderous mongoloids, Shaw, along with his only onsite ally Victoria Brown and his headquarters of likeminded scientists, must make the citizens understand the gravity of their conditions before Balfe as they know it becomes extinct.  Loaded with lab coat deliberations, scuba-diving investigations and far too seldom appearances from the island’s mutated locals, Doomwatch's not-so subtle message signaling the dangers of pollution feels ahead of its time and far more potent in today’s environmentally conscience society yet, can’t help but mildly disappoint for cloaking itself as the sci-fi thriller it is not.  Boasting a stirring score from John Scott (Man on Fire) and watchable performances from its principal players, Doomwatch may not fully live up to its promotional campaign of island-infested monsters but, delivers a respectable message with a handful of thrills to go around.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Doomwatch with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Making a strong leap to high-definition, skin tones are consistently handled with detail in the disfigured local’s faces nicely highlighted.  Meanwhile, the softness found on the island’s misty surroundings remains intact while, black levels waver from respectable to slightly murky, seen most apparently during the film’s opening.  Lastly, scant scratches are observed but never deter from watchability.  Equipped with a satisfactory DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is crisp with only heavier accents occasionally requiring a boost in volume due more to their thickness and less with the mix’s performance.  In addition, John Scott’s riveting score provides exceptional ambiance on the track while, several cracks and pops make their presence heard.  Special features include, an On-Camera Intro by Director Peter Sasdy (2:18), an Audio Commentary with Director Peter Sasdy, Doomsday with Judy Geeson (6:20) where the film’s female lead recalls the difficult shoot on Cornwall and its unpredictable weather conditions, her attraction to the hot-button issue of pollution for taking the role and her admirations for her fellow costars.  Lastly, Trailers for The Island of Dr. Moreau (2:12), The Neptune Factor (3:02) and War-Gods of the Deep (2:21) are also included.

    Not quite the deep sea excursion into grotesque beasts one would hope, Doomwatch delivers a halfway decent plot exposing the dangers of pollution and a troubled island of misfits at its mercy.  Sure to please slightly more for those not expecting a B-movie bonanza, the environmental thriller would have only benefitted from more genre tropes but alas, remains a decent effort with a certifiably green agenda.  Meanwhile, KL Studio Classics delivers the film spinoff with a most pleasing presentation and a welcome array of special features including, a new interview with Star Geeson and commentary track from its 81-year-old director.

    RATING: 3/5

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

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

    Black Christmas (1974)

    Director: Bob Clark

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

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • 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.

     

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Hardcore (1979) Blu-ray Review

    Hardcore (1979)

    Director: Paul Schrader

    Starring: George C. Scott, Peter Boyle, Season Hubley, Dick Sargent & Ilah Davis

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Writer/Director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, American Gigolo), Hardcore explores the seedy underbelly of pornography when religiously devout Midwesterner Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott, The Hustler) scours Los Angeles to find his missing daughter subjected to the sex-driven trade.  Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein), Season Hubley (Elvis), Dick Sargent (Bewitched) and Ilah Davis in her only feature film co-star.

    Haunting and uncomfortably captivating, Paul Schrader’s descent into the sleazy subculture of peep shows and underage pornography stabs like a knife that equally shocks and emotionally runs it toll on audiences and its traumatized characters alike.  Leading a simple life in the chilly, religiously-minded Grand Rapids, businessman and single father Jake Van Dorn sees his young daughter Kristen (Davis) off on a church sanctioned getaway to sunny California when every parent’s worst nightmare comes true.  Alerted that the adolescent girl has gone missing, Van Dorn wastes little time heading to Los Angeles where the local authorities offer little assistance outside of recommending the hire of a private detective.  Foul-mouthed and unorthodox, the troubled father enlists the services of Andy Mast (Boyle) who makes the harrowing discovery of a ratty stag film starring the precocious teen.  Virtually impossible to track and overcome with pain and anger, Van Dorn takes matters into his own hands to locate his child, leading him through a sensory shocking exploration of the adult film underworld and its unsavory operators.  Asking questions best left unanswered before masquerading as a film producer to better infiltrate his surroundings, the straight-laced Calvinist’s connection to a working girl (Hubley) with insider access sends the mismatched pair to the illuminated porn palaces and bathhouses of San Diego and Frisco where more depraved alleyways are opened to Van Dorn.  Subjected to grizzly snuff films and entry into bondage-style dungeons, the forever changed parent reaches rock bottom when a gut-wrenching revelation is made on his surreal odyssey of turmoil.

    Capturing the bygone storefronts and coin-operated sex shows of the Sunset Strip, Hardcore is an authentically gripping and viscerally effective feature that leaves scars long after its end credits fade to black.  The Academy Award winning Scott is exceptional as a father struggling to salvage his faith in the gutters of S&M debauchery while, Boyle makes for an intriguingly sordid private eye with sex on the mind.  In addition, Season Hubley greatly impresses in her role as the street hustling key to Van Dorn’s daughter with early appearances from Tracey Walter (Repo Man) as a perfectly cast adult store clerk and Ed Begley Jr. (St. Elsewhere) as a fully dressed porn star, also on hand.  Crafting outsider personalities and bringing hypnotic allure to urban decay like no other, Schrader’s West Coast-based feature, although narratively unique, serves as a welcome companion piece to his scripted Taxi Driver masterwork that both host psychologically wounded characters suffocating within their dark environments.  Although easing the brakes on a more appropriately traumatizing conclusion, Hardcore still leaves viewers in a state of awe and disbelief by the sights and sounds most would assume only reside in nightmares and not the very real crevices of our imperfect society.

    Limited to 3,000 units, Twilight Time presents Hardcore with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting natural film grain throughout with spot-on facial tones and soothing contrast, Schrader’s sophomore feature arrives free of scuffs and scratches with vastly impressive black levels seen during its many nighttime street sequences and in the backrooms of porn shops.  In addition, detail is striking with easily seen fingerprints on peep show booths plus, boastful colors admired though neon-lit lighting and Scott’s Hawaiian shirts greatly impress.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, the track is far from spellbinding or wildly dynamic but, prioritizes dialogue and makes Composer Jack Nitzsche's (Cruising, Stand by Me) trembling guitar chords wholly impactful.  Special features include, a new 2016 recorded Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Paul Schrader followed by an Audio Commentary with Film Historians Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer & Paul Scrabo.  In addition, an Isolated Score Track, the Original Theatrical Trailer (1:21) and a 6-page booklet featuring another excellently authored essay by Julie Virgo conclude the supplemental package.

    One of Schrader’s most accomplished efforts that unquestionably influenced Joel Schumacher’s snuff film thriller 8MM two decades later, Hardcore is an unflinchingly brutal assault on parental fears and broken faith set under the hot, throbbing lights of pornography skid row.  Shocking and emotionally draining, Twilight Time ushers the controversial classic onto Blu-ray with a definitive presentation, chatty and informative commentary tracks from its creator and well-versed historians plus, engaging liner notes making the release essential to any 70s film enthusiast.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now and limited to 3,000 units from Twilight Time, Hardcore can be purchased exclusively via TwilightTimeMovies.com and ScreenArchives.com.

  • 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.

  • Circus of Fear (1966) / Five Golden Dragons (1967) Blu-ray Review

    Circus of Fear (1966) / Five Golden Dragons (1967)

    Director(s): John Moxey / Jeremy Summers

    Starring: Christopher Lee, Leo Genn, Anthony Newlands, Heinz Drache, Eddi Arent, Klaus Kinski, Margaret Lee, Suzy Kendall, Cecil Parker, Victor Marddern & Maurice Kaufmann / Bob Cummings, Margaret Lee, Rupert Davies, Klaus Kinski, Maria Rohm & Maria Perschy

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Presenting a double serving of Edgar Wallace crime tales, Blue Underground proudly presents Circus of Fear where a calculated car heist leads to a murder mystery set against the backdrop of a traveling circus.  Featuring an ensemble cast including, Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula) and Klaus Kinski (Venom), greed, revenge and red herrings reign supreme in this British whodunit.  Next up, Five Golden Dragons finds wealthy American Bob Mitchell (Bob Cummings, Dial M for Murder) embroiled in the crosshairs of a deadly crime syndicate during his Hong Kong getaway.  Struggling to survive, Mitchell attempts to discover the identities of his mysterious misfortune makers.  

    Released in America as Psycho-Circus in a heavily edited form to appease the later half of its double feature bookings, Circus of Fear’s impressive onscreen talent matched with the directorial knowhow of John Moxey (The City of the Dead) does little to salvage this tiresomely dull caper.  After successfully shaking down an armored vehicle of riches, a gang member stashes the loot in Barberini’s Circus before falling victim to a mystery throwers blade.  With a full-scale investigation initiated, the eccentric personalities of the traveling roadshow are introduced and suspected including, but not limited to, masked lion tamer Gregor (Lee).  Although top billed, Lee, whose performance appears rather stiffly, remains shrouded for much of the film, reportedly hiding a severely scarred appearance that is anything but.  The deeper the authorities, led by Detective Elliot (Leo Genn, Moby Dick) dig, the more circus performers turn up dead.  While captivating character actor Klaus Kinski appearing as a chain-smoking crook is yawningly reduced to hiding in the shadows, blonde bombshell Margaret Lee’s (Venus in Furs) glamorous looks help offset the disappointment.  Littered with multiple red herrings and an overly complicated plot of family pasts involving slain fathers and escaped convicts, Circus of Fear is never wholly thrilling or terribly exciting.  Like a carnival barker baiting viewers with its intriguing title and respectable cast, Circus of Fear is an unfortunate big-top bust.

    Appearing in his final film effort before returning to television indefinitely, funnyman Bob Cummings brings his all-American lightheartedness to the B-grade comedy caper antics of Five Golden Dragons.  Shot on location in Hong Kong and the infamous Shaw Brothers Studios, Cummings’ chewing gum salesman Bob Mitchell receives a peculiar note from a murdered man with links to an illegal, top secret operation.  Much like a fish out of water, Mitchell finds himself in over his head as the crime syndicate looks to eliminate the clueless tourist before their organization is jeopardized.  Circus of Fear Producer Harry Alan Towers and Screenwriter Peter Welbeck re-team on this mildly entertaining mystery, recycling several thespians from their previous collaboration including, the very sexy Margaret Lee appearing as corrupt singer Magda while, Klaus Kinski and Christopher Lee are relegated to forgettable cameo appearances.  Bumbling his way through secret passages and making nervous conversation at gunpoint, Cummings, although far older than imagined for the part, is likable enough as he attempts to keep his poolside crush Ingrid (Maria Rohm, Count Dracula) safe while, hoping to unmask the identities of the criminal Five Golden Dragons with assistance from Commissioner Sanders (Rupert Davies, Witchfinder General) who makes quoting and citing Shakespeare a necessity.  Capturing the beautiful surroundings of Hong Kong’s seaport and featuring a charming musical performance from guest singer Yukari Itô, Five Golden Dragons is only sparingly humorous with its greatest unintentional laugh arriving at the expense of the titular villains who interface under the hilarious disguises of oversized dragon heads.

    Blue Underground proudly presents both films newly remastered from their original negatives with 1080p transfers.  While Circus of Fear sports a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Five Golden Dragons debuts with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting healthy skin tones, pleasingly bold colors in wardrobe choices and strong detail in backgrounds, black levels are richly defined in tuxedos and Lee’s dark mask while, no glaring evidence of age-related artifacts are present on either transfer.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, both films offer easy to follow tracks with audible levels of clarity although, Five Golden Dragons appears to have a tinnier effect during dialogue delivery.  With no noticeable cracks or pops detected, each mix is more than satisfactory.  Meanwhile, supplements on Circus of Fear feature a recycled Audio Commentary with Director John Moxey, moderated by David Gregory, an International Color Trailer (2:29), International B&W Trailer (2:30), a U.S. Color Trailer (2:02), U.S. B&W Trailer (2:04) and a Poster & Still Gallery (87 in total) whereas, Five Golden Dragons includes its Theatrical Trailer (2:49) and a Poster & Still Gallery (92 in total).

    Inviting viewers to the crime-filled menagerie of Edgar Wallace’s mysteries, Circus of Fear is a grave disappointment with an alluring poster design and surefire cast that unfortunately fails to thrill yet, succeeds in being overly complicated.  Joined by its more comedic co-feature, Five Golden Dragons also stumbles to be memorable although Cummings’ personality matched with Margaret Lee’s jaw dropping beauty and the gorgeous sights of Hong Kong all make for worthy notices.  Meanwhile, Blue Underground treats viewers with praiseworthy restorations of both features that are noticeable advancements over their more than decade old standard definition releases.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Blue Underground, Circus of Fear / Five Golden Dragons can be purchased via 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.

  • 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) Blu-ray Review

    10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

    Director: Dan Trachtenberg

    Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead & John Gallagher Jr.

    Released by: Paramount Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A distant cousin to Producer J.J. Abrams’ 2008 found footage thriller, 10 Cloverfield Lane focuses on Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim VS. The World) who after experiencing a near fatal car accident awakens inside the underground bunker of survivalist Howard (John Goodman, Argo).  Assured that she was saved from an apocalyptic attack, Howard’s questionable motives and short-temper leaves Michelle determined to learn the truth.

    From its frantic opening where Michelle is seen packing her belongings for a fast getaway, 10 Cloverfield Lane wastes little time establishing its theme of escape from forces deemed uncontrollable.  Shortly after suffering a severe car accident, the dark-haired beauty finds herself chained in a concrete room before being introduced to her savior Howard.  Overcome with shock, the doomsday planner informs his new bunker guest of the cataclysmic fallout that has occurred above ground, coldly reporting that no survivors remain.  Unwilling to believe her odd host, Michelle savagely fights back only to confirm her own fears that the world she once knew is no longer what it was.  Joined by kindhearted local boy Emmett (John Gallagher Jr., The Newsroom), the three unlikely roommates must forge a union in their new underground home in order to survive a new tomorrow.  Continuously suspicious, Michelle suspects Howard’s motives to be deceitful as his unstable personality and chilling paranoia increases the longer time passes, prompting the resourceful survivor to go above Howard’s head and escape her reportedly safe surrounding.

    After conquering a galaxy far, far away, Producer J.J. Abrams’ top-secret project would unsuspectingly sneak attack the public a mere two months before its theatrical premiere.  Bearing a similar title to its loosely connected predecessor, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an entirely different beast that ditches its Kaiju-inspired roots for a far more contained, character-driven tale that relies on razor-sharp suspense and thrills.  Tightly budgeted and featuring a cast of only three, Mary Elizabeth Winstead delivers a riveting performance of an understandably terrified civilian who overcomes her fears in more ways than one.  In addition, as Hollywood’s unofficial good luck charm, John Goodman taps into the rarely seen dark recesses of his craft, arguably establishing one of the best and most surprising performances of his career.  Best experienced as it was initially promoted with as little information as possible, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a heart-pounding watch with exceptional tension that will leave viewers fighting for air by its conclusion.  Vastly unique from its previous feature, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not only a far superior being but also one of 2016’s best surprises.

    Paramount Pictures presents 10 Cloverfield Lane with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Cast in rather subdued colors, clarity is impressive while, the soft-lighting of the underground bunker is exceptionally balanced allowing for strong detail in skin tones and background props to be crisply represented.  In addition, black levels, most notably during the film’s final act, are perfectly inky, ensuring a spectacular viewing experience from start to finish.  Equipped with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, dialogue is perfectly clear with foreboding music cues, rumbling bass notes and even the film’s few oldies hits making impactful marks.  Meanwhile, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Dan Trachtenberg & Producer J.J. Abrams plus, seven Featurettes (34:42) ranging from Cloverfield Too, Bunker Mentality, Duck and Cover, Spin-Off, Kelvin Optical, Fine Tuned and End of Story that do a solid job covering the many different aspects of the film’s making.  Finally, a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code conclude the supplemental package.

    Materializing from what seemed like nowhere with its brilliantly mysterious marketing campaign, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a refreshingly original stranglehold viewing experience that keeps its grip tightly fastened.  Tensely absorbing, newcomer Dan Trachtenberg’s feature film debut unquestionably stands as one of the year’s most satisfying features with an exceptional high-definition release and an informative special features package to go along with it.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Paramount Pictures, 10 Cloverfield Lane can be purchased via 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Regression (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Regression (2015)

    Director: Alejandro Amenábar

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

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • The Boy (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Boy (2016)

    Director: William Brent Bell

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

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 2.5/5

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

  • 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.

  • Suspicion (1941) Blu-ray Review

    Suspicion (1941)

    Director: Alfred Hitchcock

    Starring: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce & Dame May Whitty

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock (The Man Who Knew Too Much, Strangers on a Train), Suspicion stars Joan Fontaine (Rebecca) as bookish Lina McLaidlaw who’s swept off her feet by the dashing Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant, North by Northwest).  Overwhelmed with affection and married hastily, Lina slowly learns the truths of her new husband’s dishonesty and potentially murderous agenda with the newlywed fearing she may be his next victim.  Sir Cedric Hardwicke (The Ten Commandments), Nigel Bruce (Limelight) and Dame May Whitty (Mrs. Miniver) co-star.

    Adapted from Anthony Berkeley’s (under the pseudonym Francis Illes) novel Before the Fact, Suspicion presents a romantically conceived tale, tensely elevated to soaring heights as a girl in love suspects her one and only is out for blood.  Playing against type, the charismatic Cary Grant slides his way into frame as the worry-free and financially irresponsible Johnnie Aysgarth whose good looks and fast talk only take him so far when shards of his true self are slowly revealed to his hopelessly in love new bride Lina (Fontaine).  Moving into a mammoth estate, Lina learns that not only is Johnnie jobless but gets by routinely borrowing large sums of money in order to gamble his way into actual fortunes that never last.  In order to put his wife’s worries at bay, Johnnie takes employment with his cousin as his loveably buffoonish buddy Beaky (Bruce) visits the couple and innocently informs Lina of Johnnie’s untruthful way with words.  Before long and without Johnnie’s knowledge, Lina learns of his job loss due to embezzlement of funds shortly before a family tragedy strikes.  While Lina grieves over the loss of her father, Johnnie grows frustrated at their dismal inheritance leading a real estate opportunity to bloom with Beaky.  As lies and deceit mount in the wake of yet another questionable death, Lina begins to suspect her husband will do anything to stay financially stable… even murder.

    Rightly earning Joan Fontaine an Academy Award for the only Hitchcock lensed performance to earn such an honor, Suspicion is gracefully directed with Grant and Fontaine’s irresistible love story warming viewers’ hearts.  While Johnnie consistently lies and increasing disappoints Lina, Grant’s wit and obvious infatuation with his onscreen wife make his wrongs forgivable.  Shifting its tone to a tensely orchestrated thriller, Johnnie’s obsession with mystery novels and untraceable poisons convinces Lina that her next glass of milk may be her last.  Rattled by nerves and a heart-pounding, high speed car sequence in its waning moments, Suspicion throws itself through the windshield with a wholly underwhelming conclusion that preaches the cons of wrongly suspecting others instead of delivering a gutsier conclusion found in its original source material.  While its ending may be uneventful, Suspicion captures a cocktail of effective atmosphere, sound performances from its leads and remains as technically polished as anything helmed by Hitchcock during this era.

    Presented in 1080p, screened in its 1.37:1 aspect ratio, Suspicion looks sumptuous with deep blacks and natural grain permeating its runtime.  While the lavish settings and intricacies of set pieces including, Lina’s heirloom chairs, appear nicely detailed, textures in costume choices and the film’s monochrome photography are beautifully communicated.  Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is wonderfully handled with any signs of crackling distortion absent.  With the exception of Franz Waxman’s (Stalag 17) evocatively simple score, the track is rather simple in its range but, handsomely treated.  Furthermore, special features include, Before the Fact: Suspicious Hitchcock (21:36) which offers a valuable critical analysis of the feature with insight from Author Bill Krohn, Film Historian Robert Osbourne, Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and others while, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:41) rounds out the supplements.

    In a particularly marvelous decade for the auteur, Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion, although suffering from a rather dull finale, ranks highly for its genre blending prowess and award winning turn by Fontaine.  Masterfully restored, Warner Archive treats another of cinema’s greats with the expected quality and care film enthusiasts have come to expect.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, Suspicion can be purchased via WBShop.com, 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.

  • Hellions (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Hellions (2015)

    Director: Bruce McDonald

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

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Jack's Back (1988) Blu-ray Review

    Jack’s Back (1988)

    Director: Rowdy Herrington

    Starring: James Spader, Cynthia Gibb, Jim Haynie, Robert Picardo, Rod Loomis & Rex Ryon

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    One hundred years after the brutal slayings of Jack the Ripper, Jack’s Back takes place in modern day Los Angeles where a copycat killer stalks the streets, leaving a trail of victims in his wake.  When intelligent medical student John Wesford (James Spader, Avengers: Age of Ultron) is suspected, the mystery thickens following his own shocking death.  Disturbed by nightmarish visions, John’s estranged twin brother Rick emerges to discover the true culprit.  Cynthia Gibb (Modern Girls), Jim Haynie (The Peacemaker), Robert Picardo (The Howling), Rod Loomis (The Beastmaster) and Rex Ryon (Feds) co-star.

    Marking the directorial debut of Rowdy Herrington (Road House), Jack’s Back is a crafty, murder-mystery whodunit that takes the unsolved legend of Jack the Ripper and transports it to the flashy lights of Los Angeles.  Following a string of copycat murders in the vein of London’s most noteworthy criminal, doctor in training and fellow humanitarian John Wesford (Spader) finds himself in the crosshairs of the supposed killer only to meet a fatal demise.  With evidence linking him to the murders and his own suicide, John’s rough around the edges twin brother Rick is convinced otherwise after experiencing nightmares of his brother’s murder.  Seeking assistance from a hypnotizing psychologist (Picardo) and John’s potential love interest Chris (Gibb), Rick may have bargained for more than he can handle when those close to him are targeted.

    From Paul Saax’s catchy rendition of “Red Harvest” over its opening credits to quintessential 80s saxophone queues throughout, Jack’s Back sets the intended tone of a thriller for its time.  Following his teenage turns in efforts such as Tuff Turf and Pretty in Pink, James Spader graduates to more adult fare as an ace med student and disturbed tough boy, handling both sides of the same coin effectively.  In addition, while coasting the L.A. streets of yesteryear before stumbling upon a seedy peep store for firepower, nostalgic Gen Xers will take comfort as Rick and the attractive Chris pass a neon lit movie house playing Can’t Buy Me Love and La Bamba.  Littered with multiple red herrings and an engaging plot that keeps viewers guessing until its dramatic conclusion, Jack’s Back is far more clever and inventive than credited.

    Boasting a newly struck transfer from the original camera negative, Scream Factory presents Jack’s Back in 1080p, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  While black levels found in its opening sequence appear mildly splotchy with other instances possessing hints of noise, skin tones maintain respectable detail.  In addition, interior daytime sequences occasionally suffer from overblown white levels although, the noticeably clean, virtually free of nicks and scratches, transfer sports an overall filmic quality.  Joined by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is cleanly relayed with Paul Saax’s opening number and the film’s multiple car chases offering decent, if not mediocre, boosts in authority.  Furthermore, no discernible instances of hiss or pops were detected.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Rowdy Herrington,The Making of Jack’s Back (23:51) featuring new interviews with Herrington, Director of Photography Shelly Johnson, Producer Tim Moore and Actress Cynthia Gibb.  Finally, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (0:57) and a DVD edition of the release round out the supplements.

    Suspenseful and smart, Jack’s Back is a well-paced and thrilling showcase for the up and coming Spader before his respected turns in Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Crash.  After a short delay, Scream Factory delivers this underrated effort in a worthy presentation, just in time for its Blu-ray debut.  Joined by a newly recorded commentary and an informative retrospective featurette, Jack’s Back returns for the better.

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • The Babysitter (1995) Blu-ray Review

    The Babysitter (1995)

    Director: Guy Ferland

    Starring: Alicia Silverstone, Jeremy London, J.T. Walsh, Nicky Katt & George Segal

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following her turn as ditzy blonde bombshell in Clueless, Alicia Silverstone stars in The Babysitter.  When Harry and Dolly Tucker (J.T. Walsh, The Negotiator and Lee Garlington, Psycho II) attend a local party, the attractive Jennifer (Silverstone) is entrusted to babysit their children.  As the night progresses, Jennifer receives advances from her drunken boyfriend Jack (Jeremy London, Mallrats) and his manipulative friend Mark (Nicky Katt, Insomnia).  In addition to being the object of the elder Harry’s sexual desires, Jennifer’s quiet night of babysitting spirals into an unnerving evening she won’t soon forget.

    Overly relying on erotic daydreams of its attractive lead concocted by most of the supporting cast, The Babysitter lacks knowledge of its own intentions.  While Harry quietly drools over the teenage babysitter, Jennifer’s boyfriend Jack is pursued by his estranged former friend Mark forcing viewers to endure meandering dialogue of little value.  As the film’s parental figures drunkenly long for passionate affairs, Jack is duped into stalking his own girlfriend after kindly being told to not visit her while babysitting.  Crosscutting between the film’s reality, Harry’s own scandalous fantasies and Jack’s never ending thoughts of “what if” possibilities, The Babysitter never finds it footing as the erotic thriller it strives to be.  Attempting to resuscitate itself in its final fleeting moments with the core characters brought together by tragedy, Director Guy Ferland’s (Telling Lies in America) directorial debut fails to weave a compelling tale with character development greatly suffering.  Unsurprisingly, The Babysitter was lambasted direct to video during its original release with time doing little good to this tensionless feature.  Scared and confused, Jennifer asks her bizarrely weak-minded boyfriend what he was thinking following the film’s events, leaving viewers asking similar questions regarding the film’s quality or lack thereof.  

    Olive Films presents The Babysitter with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Presumably struck from a dated master, the picture boasts a softness that yields a less than desirably sharper appearance.  Colors are mostly satisfying with Mark’s sports car popping nicely and black levels possessing inky levels.  Meanwhile, skin tones range from mediocre to unpleasantly muddled in closeups while flakes and speckles are largely kept to a minimum but still occasionally present.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is sufficiently audible with little else of merit.  No special features have been included on this release.

    RATING: 2/5

    Available now from Olive Films, The Babysitter can be purchased via OliveFilms.com,

    Amazon.com and other fine retailers.  

  • Dog Soldiers (2002) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Dog Soldiers (2002)

    Director: Neil Marshall

    Starring: Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee, Emma Cleasby & Liam Cunningham

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the directorial debut of Neil Marshall (The Descent, Game of Thrones), Dog Soldiers focuses on a team of soldiers dispatched to the Scottish Highlands for routine training.  After discovering Captain Ryan, the lone survivor of a Special Ops team who were savagely torn to shreds, the soldiers realize the same bloodthirsty creatures are still lurking in the forest.  When a local girl guides them to a desolate farmhouse for shelter, the same pack of deadly werewolves track them leading to a tense standoff.  Kevin McKidd (Grey’s Anatomy), Sean Pertwee (Gotham), Emma Cleasby (Doomsday) and Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) star.

    Considered one of the finest werewolf pictures of the 21st century, Dog Soldiers is an adrenaline-fueled experience, leaving little room to catch your breath.  Overflowing with chilling suspense and terrifying with its effective creature designs, Neil Marshall’s feature-length debut casts a hypnotic spell that will leave viewers on the edge of their seats.  After being dispatched to the Scottish Highlands for training procedures, a band of soldiers find themselves in a fight for their lives against a pack of ravenous werewolves.  Filled with likable characters exchanging naturalistic chemistry, the soldiers never shy from humorously heaving obscenities at one another and expressing their disappointment at missing a football game for this uneventful training mission.  After discovering Captain Ryan and the bloody remains of his Special Ops team, the soldiers quickly realize the dire situation they have entered.  Struggling to hold their ground in the forest, a local girl rescues the team and ushers them to a secluded farmhouse to battle the deadly werewolves.  With ammunition and men running low, the surviving soldiers must get creative in order to stay alive through the night.  Opting for a traditional approach, Dog Soldiers utilizes animatronics and costumed performers for its hairy antagonists that breathes an authentic tone of terror.  Blending high-octane action and atmospheric carnage, Director Neil Marshall’s frightening tale of lycanthropes reinvigorates the subgenre with its accomplished cast and claustrophobic setting, placing the film amongst the finest werewolf efforts of all-time.

    After nearly a year delay, Scream Factory proudly presents Dog Soldiers with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Scanned in 2K with supervision and approval from Director Neil Marshall, Dog Soldiers sports a slightly soft picture credited to its original 16mm roots that were blown up to 35mm for its theatrical distribution.  With occasional instances of scuffs and vertical lines on display, colors are decently relayed with the film’s bloodier moments popping most effectively.  Shrouded mostly in darkness, the film offers sufficiently inky black levels that allow for appropriate clarity and minimal speckling.  Based on previous subpar home video releases and the scarcity of desirable elements, Scream Factory, with the assistance of Marshall, provide fans with the closest representation of the director’s vision.  While viewers may still feel divided, there’s no denying this is the best Dog Soldiers has ever looked on home video.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is clear and free of distortion while, moments of heavy artillery, explosions and werewolf shredding make a thunderous statement that are balanced accordingly.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 has also been provided for your listening pleasure.  True to its collector’s edition banner, Scream Factory provides an exuberant amount of special features including, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Neil Marshall while, Aine Leicht (Night of the Demons, Class of 1984) delivers another top-notch featurette with Werewolves VS. Soldiers: The Making of Dog Soldiers (1:01:50).  Featuring new interviews from the cast and crew, this lengthy look back ranks as one of Scream Factory’s finest retrospectives and easily the crowning jewel of the disc’s supplemental offerings.  In addition, A Cottage in the Woods: Building the Sets of Dog Soldiers with Simon Bowles (13:26), Trailers (5:02), a Dog Soldiers Photo Gallery (47 in total), Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery (22 in total) and Director Neil Marshall’s early short film Combat (7:37) are also included.  Finally, a reversible cover art and DVD edition of the release wrap up the impressive bonus features.  

    A successful hybrid of intense action and effective frights, Dog Soldiers turns the werewolf subgenre on its head for a unique experience that understands the art of suspense.  Starring an ensemble cast delivering earnest performances and containing noteworthy practical effects, Director Neil Marshall’s bloody excursion through the Scottish Highlands is a career highlight that still ranks as one of the most impressive pictures of the genre.  Far from a simple undertaking, Scream Factory delivers Dog Soldiers with its finest home video presentation to date that will easily trump previous releases.  With the original negative lost, Scream Factory and Director Neil Marshall have gone to great lengths to preserve the film’s vision, resulting in a successful outcome that should greatly appease fans.  In addition, Aine Leicht’s impressive array of special features and Nathan Thomas Milliner’s newly crafted artwork treats this collector’s edition like horror royalty that will ultimately leave fans howling at the moon in delight.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available June 23rd from Scream Factory, Dog Soldiers can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Malice (1993) Blu-ray Review

    Malice (1993)

    Director: Harold Becker

    Starring: Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman, Bill Pullman, Bebe Neuwirth & George C. Scott

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Director Harold Becker (The Onion Field), Malice centers on laid-back college dean Andy Safian (Bill Pullman, Lake Placid) coping with a string of on-campus rapes.  In addition, as Andy struggles to renovate his house, his wife Tracy (Nicole Kidman, Eyes Wide Shut) begins developing severe stomach cramps.  Shortly after inviting the cocky and charismatic Dr. Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin, The Departed) to move in with the couple, Andy’s life is turned upside down by a series of chilling events.  George C. Scott (Hardcore), Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers), Peter Gallagher (American Beauty), Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man), Tobin Bell (Saw) and Anne Bancroft (The Graduate) co-star.

    Co-scripted by Academy Award winner Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), Malice is a deliciously deceptive thriller that oozes style and intrigue.  Living an idyllic life, college dean Andy Safian (Pullman) is rattled when a serial rapist claims several victims on his campus.  Following the recovery of one survivor, Andy is reacquainted with former high school alumni Dr. Jed Hill (Baldwin), forging a new found friendship.  New to the community, Andy invites Jed to move in with him and his wife Tracy (Kidman) to help alleviate financial pressure.  Shortly after, one of Andy’s students is discovered dead marking him a possible suspect in the mysterious crimes.  In addition, as Tracy’s stomach cramps increase resulting in emergency surgery, Jed serving as the acting surgeon confronts Andy with a difficult decision that will weigh heavily on the couple’s future.  Before long, Tracy is devastated with the outcome prompting her to abandon Andy and file a lawsuit against Jed’s malpractice.  Shrouded in mystery and loaded with red herrings, Malice welcomes viewers into the false normalcy of Andy and Tracy’s marriage before slowly unveiling the sinister surface below.  Pullman and Kidman evoke genuine chemistry as a loving couple while sharing steamy sequences of ecstasy together.  Meanwhile, Baldwin effortlessly projects sex appeal and charm as the Safian’s unexpected roommate who becomes a crucial part in their complicated story of conspiracy and shady characters.  While the film’s serial rapist subplot serves as nothing more than a suspenseful smokescreen, Malice ultimately delivers a chilling thrill ride that leaves viewers unsure who to trust.  Accompanied by a haunting score by Jerry Goldsmith (Poltergeist, Rudy) and atmospheric cinematography by Gordon Willis (The Purple Rose of Cairo), Malice is an edge of your seat, character-driven mystery that is sorely lacking in today’s cinematic landscape.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Malice with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Free of any discernible scratches and bearing a filmic appearance, colors pop boldly while skin tones remain warm and inviting.  Evident in wardrobe, facial details and backgrounds, detail is crisp and clear while, black levels, sans minimal instances of speckling, appear inky and visible.  Joined by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is always audible and excused of any distortion while, Goldsmith’s ghostly score and sound effects ranging from a rainstorm to glass shattering deliver a noticeably pleasing increase in authority.  Finally, special features include, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:57) and The Onion Field Theatrical Trailer (1:59).

    Rarely missing a beat, Malice is a wickedly entertaining examination of three individuals and the complex circumstances that befall on them.  Constantly keeping viewers guessing and in a state of shock, Director Harold Becker’s thriller delivers memorable performances from its core performers and effective turns from its supporting players including, Bebe Neuwirth and Anne Bancroft.  In addition, Kino Lorber Studio Classics issues this endlessly mysterious gem with splendid technical specifications that greatly enrich the viewing experience.  Blending deception, murder and betrayal, Malice is an exhilarating mystery that will viewers blindsided.

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (1962) Blu-ray Review

    The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (1962)

    Director: Jess Franco

    Starring: Howard Vernon, Hugo Blanco & Gogo Robins

    Released by: Redemption 

    Reviewed by David Steigman

    When one thinks of Euro-sleaze, most die-hard fans of this genre will immediately think of the one and only Jess (Jesus) Franco.  He was the master filmmaker for Euro-Sleaze movies, which were often eclectic with many ladies often appearing nude in his films. During the early 1960s, when Franco had started to direct some period black and white, Gothic films including The Awful Dr. Orlof, there was always a little touch of his groundbreaking style including some nudity and sadism.  The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus, Franco’s second horror film, was another step closer to the type of films most Franco aficionados are familiar with.

    The story of The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus concerns women who are being stabbed to death in a European village by an unseen killer.  Many of the residents there strongly believe it’s the ghost of Baron Von Klaus, a sadist (hence the title Sadistic) from the 17th Century who brutalized women.  They feel his spirit lives on within his modern day relatives.  The film turns into a creepy mystery as the villagers try to discover who has the spirit of Baron Von Klaus within him.  Appearing sinister and strongly resembling the baron based on a picture on the wall in the Von Klaus castle, Max Von Klaus (Howard Vernon) becomes the main red herring of the film.  Ludwig, played by Hugo Blanco, also has a key role in the movie as a pianist and the son of Baron Von Klaus.  The film does have one really powerful scene for its time which eventually became a Jess Franco trademark where a woman, Margaret, played by Gogo Robins gets stripped, molested, whipped and chained up by the killer.  This one scene alone really makes the picture; otherwise, it is an at times tedious film with some musical numbers.  The crisp black and white cinematography also helps the viewing experience as it captures the atmosphere found in many international films from the period.  Ultimately, Franco achieves a very creepy, artistic and yet, slow paced movie.

    Redemption has released The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus in a beautiful 1080p AVC encoded letterboxed transfer.  Outstanding and sharply detailed, black levels are strong as are whites while, film grain is present throughout.  The audio is a robust LPCM 2.0 in its original French language.  What really stands out in the audio are all the musical numbers with the piano.  Since the movie was never dubbed into English, there are very easy to read English subtitles on this release.  No extras are included on this release.

    Fans of Jess Franco should not pass up this film in their collection.  It’s a chance to see his early work which is atmospheric, stylish and with a small touch of the Franco sleaze that he would become renowned for. 

    RATING: 4/5

    Available June 9 from Redemption, The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus can be purchased from KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) Blu-ray Review

    X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)

    Director: Roger Corman

    Starring: Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone, John Hoyt & Don Rickles

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Director Roger Corman (Tales of Terror, The Haunted Palace) sets his shocking sights on X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, starring Academy Award winner Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend) as Dr. Xavier.  In an attempt to improve human eyesight, the daring doctor concocts a formula for X-ray vision.  Impressed with his achievement but ignored by his peers, Xavier successfully tests the experimental drug on himself before aftereffects of terror emerge.  Diana Van der Vlis (The Swimmer), Harold J. Stone (The Wrong Man), John Hoyt (Gimme a Break!) and Don Rickles (Toy Story) co-star.

    In arguably one of Corman’s most profound efforts of the 1960s, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes was unsurprisingly produced quickly and cheaply while supporting impressive, if not dated, visual effects.  Following their collaboration on 1962‘s The Premature Burial, Ray Milland headlines as the curious Dr. Xavier, determined to see beyond normal human standards.  Discovering a formula for X-ray vision and finding little support from his fellow professionals, Xavier chooses to experiment on himself.  After witnessing humorous situations of party guests booging in their birthday suits, Xavier’s abilities begin to waver forcing the doctor to unwisely increase his dosage.  After a moment of pressure costs a colleagues life, Xavier evades law enforcement by joining the ranks as a sideshow performer.  Comedy legend Don Rickles co-stars as a seedy carnival barker who realizes Xavier’s true powers and greedily uses them to his advantage.  In addition, Corman camp regular Dick Miller (A Bucket of Blood, The Little Shop of Horrors) makes a brief appearance as an obnoxious audience member convinced Xavier’s powers are a ruse until proven wrong.  With his vision and sanity on the brink, Xavier’s loyal and beautiful assistant, Dr. Diane Fairfax (Diana Van der Vlis), attempts to ease his situation to no avail.  Offering little hope, Xavier sees into a future of dark despair before leading to a startlingly grim finale with staying power.

    Scripted by Robert Dillion (The Old Dark House) and Ray Russell (Zotz!) respectively, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes was originally released as a supporting feature with American International Pictures’ Dementia 13.  Ray Milland commands the picture with his performance of a rebellious doctor overtaken by his own experiment.  In addition, Don Rickles shines in one of his better roles as the villainous carnival barker while, Diana Van der Vlis is competent, if not forgettable, as Xavier’s assistant and suggested love interest.  Delivering a noted sci-fi shocker for its time, Director Roger Corman’s tightly paced story and visual guidance allows X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes to stand the test of time with a terrifying ending of despair.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Supporting healthy, natural grain levels, mild instances of flakes and speckles are on display while skin tones are nicely detailed and colors, most noticeably in wardrobe and Xavier’s POV sequences, pop accordingly.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is satisfactory with no intruding signs of distortion and Composer Les Baxter’s score relayed effectively.  Special features are a plenty with an Audio Commentary with Producer/Director Roger Corman, Audio Commentary with Film Historian Tim Lucas, Terror Vision!: Joe Dante on X (6:07) finds Corman protégé Dante offering his first encounter with the X-ray thriller and his encyclopedic film knowledge on the film’s lasting impact.  In addition, a Rare Prologue (4:59), Trailers from Hell with Mick Garris (2:34) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:19) round out the disc’s impressive supplemental package.

    Suspenseful and still shocking, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes offers a glimpse into a doctor consumed by his own nightmarish creation.  Ray Milland steers the picture wonderfully with a strong supporting cast, highlighted by Rickles‘ delightfully unsavory performance.  Meanwhile, Kino Lorber Studio Classics treats this Corman gem like gold with a vastly improved video transfer and appreciable special features that shine a well-deserved light on this quality sci-fi effort.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available May 12th from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Night Game (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Night Game (1989)

    Director: Peter Masterson

    Starring: Roy Scheider, Karen Young, Richard Bradford, Carlin Glynn & Paul Gleason

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set against the backdrop of Major League Baseball, Night Game stars Roy Scheider (Sorcerer) as Texas police detective Mike Seaver.  When a string of mysterious murders linked to night baseball games strikes the Galveston area, Seaver must connect the dots before another life is taken.  Karen Young (9 1/2 Weeks), Lane Smith (The Mighty Ducks), Richard Bradford (The Untouchables), Carlin Glynn (Sixteen Candles) and Paul Gleason (Die Hard) co-star.

    Continuing in his string of gritty crime thrillers, Roy Scheider appears unconvincingly as Texas detective Mike Seaver, hot on the case of a ruthless serial killer with a weakness for blondes.  Murdering his victims with a hook-like instrument and leaving them with mysterious notes, Seaver and his team are left with few leads as more bodies begin turning up on Galveston’s beaches.  Juggling his recent engagement to the much younger Roxy (Young) and feeling pressure from his superiors, Mike, a former minor league ball player, takes notice of the questionable coincidences between the murders and the Houston Astros‘ winning streak.  Before long, it’s clear whenever Astros pitcher Silvio Baretto takes the team to victory, another murder is committed leading Seaver on a hot trail to pinning his suspect down.  

    Shot on location in Galveston, Texas and the Astrodome in Houston, Night Game stumbles to build a story of suspense and criminal intrigue.  Considerably miscast, Scheider does little to disguise his New Jersey roots as a Texan and appears generally unenthusiastic in his performance.  Cloaked in far too much mystery until its closing moments, attempts to bulk Scheider’s character up with a past as a former minor leaguer and being the son of a crime boss is suggested but, never serves much purpose to the plot.  With viewers left clueless the entire picture about the killer’s identity, the reveal is ultimately unoriginal and wildly underwhelming.  In addition, wasting the talents of supporting players such as, Lane Smith (My Cousin Vinny) and Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club) in throwaway roles, Night Game suggests a worthwhile thriller with its alluring slasher-esque poster art but, instead delivers a curveball of disappointment.

    Olive Films presents Night Game with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a natural, filmic appearance and inconsequential moments of speckling, Night Game delivers strong detail with perspiration off baseball players‘ faces and wardrobe relaying sharply.  Skin tones are inviting while, black levels are handled appropriately with little to no crushing observed.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is always audible and crisp with Composer Pino Donaggio’s (The Howling, Blow Out) score delivered authoritatively and balanced evenly with sound effects.  Unfortunately, Night Game strikes out with no special features.  

    Performing poorly at the box-office, Night Game never strives to be original and wallows in the tropes of other run-of-the-mill crime thrillers.  Instead of weaving a quality tale of mystery, viewers are left oblivious to its uninspired outcome with Scheider closing the decade out on a low note.  Olive Films delivers the film for the time on Blu-ray (and DVD) with pleasing technical achievements sans special features.  Boasting a better poster design than memorable film, Night Game is an unfortunate bust.  

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Olive Films, Night Game can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, 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.

  • Nightcrawler (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Nightcrawler (2014)

    Director: Dan Gilroy

    Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed & Bill Paxton

    Released by: Universal Studios

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the sleepless city of Los Angeles, Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch) as Lou Bloom, a driven man determined to make a name for himself in the cutthroat business of breaking news coverage.  Dangerously chasing the next murder or car crash, Bloom becomes consumed with his calling and distorts the line between documenting and participating in the unpredictable world of local news.  Rene Russo (Thor), Riz Ahmed (Centurion) and Bill Paxton (Edge of Tomorrow) co-star.

    Marking the directorial debut of Screenwriter Dan Gilroy (Two for the Money, The Bourne Legacy), Nightcrawler takes viewers on a thrilling journey where police sirens equal dollar bills for sleep-ridden film crews willing to risk it all for the cameras.  Academy Award nominated Actor Jake Gyllenhaal delivers arguably, his fiercest role to date as Lou Bloom.  Unemployed and independently educated, Bloom finds his calling after witnessing local mayhem captured for profit by freelance camera crews.  Willing to lie, cheat and steal to muscle his way into the pack of seasoned nightcrawler’s, Bloom quickly shows promise selling footage to local TV news director Nina Romina (Russo).  As jobs pile up and his craft perfected, Bloom hires fellow inexperienced assistant, Rick (Ahmed), to further his blooming career.  Losing a staggering 20 pounds for the role, Gyllenhall embodies a starving wild animal, prepared to devour the latest gory story devoid of any professional principles.  Well-spoken and precise in his desires, Gyllenhaal’s Bloom feels hauntingly akin to Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle as an introverted character disconnected from society yet, consumed by a city engulfed in crime and havoc.  Rarely blinking, Gyllenhaal conveys an emotional gamut of assertive control and  unpredictable rage like a time bomb waiting to explode.  Obsessed with capturing the hottest footage ahead of his competitors, Bloom finds himself witnessing murders and filming the scene instead of reporting the video recorded culprits.  Driven by capitalistic insanity, Bloom will stop at nothing to stage a series of events, pitting countless people in danger, including himself, to paint his personal picture of sensational news coverage.  

    Unpredictable and tense, Nightcrawler is a potent thrill ride for today’s unashamed TMZ-style coverage of current events.  Aided by compelling supporting performances from Rene Russo and Bill Paxton as a veteran nocturnal stringer, Nightcrawler is a remarkable directorial debut from Dan Gilroy with apt style and a trance-like score from Composer James Newton Howard (Collateral, Maleficent).  Tragically shunned by the Academy Awards, Gyllenhaal’s eerily conniving performance ranks as not only one of the year’s finest but, also Gyllenhall’s most absorbing.  

    Universal Studios presents Nightcrawler with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Predominately shot in the evening, Nightcrawler marvels with exceptional inky black levels and well defined detail.  Colors are vivid and pop most appropriately in Lou’s bright red Dodge Challenger while, skin tones read gorgeously even under their dimly lit circumstances.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Nightcrawler soars with perfectly audible dialogue levels, to the more menacing sounds of roaring car engines and striking gunshots, all relayed with the utmost clarity.  Special features include an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Dan Gilroy, Producer Tony Gilroy and Editor John Gilroy as well as If It Bleeds, It Leads: Making Nightcrawler (5:15), a far too short overview of the production with brief interviews from the cast and Director Dan Gilroy.  Finally, a DVD edition and UltraViolet Digital HD Code of the film round out the supplemental offerings.

    Adrenaline-pounding and sinister, Nightcrawler sends the viewer on a journey through Los Angeles‘ dangerous labyrinth of stringer sensationalism.  Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as the intelligent but, unhinged Lou Bloom is a crowd-pleasing performance resting proudly at the top of his already impressive credentials.  Meanwhile, Universal Studios‘ Blu-ray release supplies perfect technical merits but, lacks a more comprehensive supplemental package.  Familiar of past societal reject tales and simultaneously a statement on press coverage, Nightcrawler is unquestionably one of the best of its kind.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 10th from Universal Studios, Nightcrawler can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Dolls (1987) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Dolls (1987)

    Director: Stuart Gordon

    Starring: Stephen Lee, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Ian Patrick Williams & Carolyn Purdy-Gordon

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the bowels of Empire Pictures‘ vast library, Director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond) puppeteers a dark fantasy of pint-sized playmates with a sinister side.  Executive Produced by Charles Band (Ghoulies, Crawlspace), Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, proudly presents Dolls Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray for the first time ever!  Adorned with plentiful bonus content and newly designed cover art by Nathan Thomas Milliner, Dolls is bone-chilling fun.  

    After a violent storm derails their travels, a precocious little girl and her mean-spirited parents seek shelter at a gothic mansion.  Home to an elderly couple of doll makers, a childlike salesman and two punk-rockers also find their way to the gloomy residence to avoid the harsh weather.  Littered with countless hand-carved toys, something foreboding awaits in the shadows of this ominous home for those causing mischief.  Stephen Lee (Robocop 2), Guy Rolfe (Mr. Sardonicus), Hilary Mason (Don’t Look Now), Ian Patrick Williams (TerrorVision), Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Robot Jox) and Carrie Lorraine (Poltergeist II: The Other Side) star.

    MOVIE:

    Lacking the excessive gore of Gordon’s Lovecraftian efforts, Dolls works beautifully as a dark rooted fairy tale with an important comment on childhood.  Serving up tried and true horror tropes including a haunted house, brutal thunderstorms and eerie characters, Dolls feels removed from the bloody decadence of other 1980s offerings.  The talented cast hit all their marks with Guy Rolfe as the kind and equally menacing doll maker injecting an added touch of class to the film.  In addition, the late Stephen Lee shines as the youthful salesman Ralph who is conflicted with embracing his childhood.  Lee conjures up wonderful pathos when reminiscing about his boyhood toys and his late father’s jovial spirit.  Carrie Lorraine does well as the imaginative little girl Judy, who forms a bond with Ralph and the magical yet, deadly dolls.  Shot entirely on Italian sound stages, Dolls offers up wildly effective production design with a decrepit manor hosting the film’s entire tale.  No stranger to recycling their efforts, Empire Pictures would redress the set for use in Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond.  

    Clocking in under 80 minutes, Dolls‘ breezy runtime allows its simple narrative to be told without sacrifice.  Characters are nicely developed and tedious stop-motion animation brings to life the deadly playmates with wonderful results.  Bloody when necessary, Dolls never loses sight of its horror genre label but, is best remembered for its classically gothic tone, soaked in fairy tale lore.  Produced by Brian Yuzna (Society) with a screenplay by Ed Naha (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), Dolls predates the short statured slayings of Child’s Play and Puppetmaster while, capturing a spirit of horror from a bygone era.  Suspenseful and humorous, Dolls is an Empire Pictures highlight and stands as one of Gordon’s finest directorial achievements.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Dolls arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of minor flakes and speckles popping up occasionally and a slight softness during stop-motion sequences, Dolls is a delight in high-definition.  Boasting natural and nicely detailed skin tones, colors pop wonderfully in wardrobe and the various outfits of the highly decorated dolls.  Shrouded in darkness and candle light, black levels are a marvel with no crushing on display and rich visibility observed.  Simply put, Dolls makes a stunning splash with its Blu-ray debut!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Dolls has minor difficulties early on maintaining high dialogue levels.  Luckily, the mix quickly improves allowing speech to flourish with clarity and no other intrusions.  Fuzzbee Morse’s (Ghoulies II) music injects a synth-heavy, jack in the box composition that arrives robustly and further cements the film’s dark fairy tale tone.  Effectively balanced with only brief anomalies, Dolls is a satisfying listening experience.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been provided.

    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Director Stuart Gordon & Writer Ed Naha: Ported over from the previous DVD release.

    • Audio Commentary with Stars Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine and Ian Patrick Williams: Also ported over from the previous DVD release.

    • Toys of Terror: The Making of Dolls (38:22): Red Shirt Pictures presents this detailed retrospective covering Empire Pictures‘ early theatrical releases, their success in the home video market and the lengthy animation techniques utilized in accomplishing Dolls‘ creepier moments.  Executive Producer Charles Band, Director Stuart Gordon, Producer Brian Yuzna, Writer Ed Naha as well as, Stars Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Ian Patrick Williams and Special Make-Up Effects Artists Gabe Bartalos and John Vulich all offer their insights on this thorough look back on Dolls, dedicated to the memory of the late Stephen Lee.

    • Theatrical Trailer (2:32)

    • Storyboard-to-Film Comparison (8:21): Three scenes, Teddy’s Revenge, Rosemary Takes a Dive and Punch’s Little Secret are presented.

    • Still Gallery: 50 in total.

    • More from Scream Factory: Trailers include Pumpkinhead, Phantom of the Paradise and Sleepaway Camp.

    • Reversible cover art: Bearing the memorable VHS artwork of a doll holding its eyeballs.

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:

    Kickstarting Executive Producer Charles Band’s obsession with pint-sized killers, Dolls is an effectively dark fairy tale surrounded by gothic horror movie set pieces.  Classier than most summer camp slasher offerings at the time, Dolls is an entertaining romp of haunted house thrills and things that go bump in the night.  Headlined by a memorable cast and painstaking animation techniques, Writer Ed Naha and Director Stuart Gordon’s tale of terrorizing toys remains an Empire Pictures standout.  Looking better than ever, Scream Factory has pulled the right strings in delivering a worthy collector’s edition of one of Gordon’s most loved films.  Sporting a splendid transfer and a newly produced retrospective from Red Shirt Pictures, Dolls Collector’s Edition is yet another must-have shriekfest for Scream Factory enthusiasts.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 11thDolls Collector's Edition can be purchased via Shout! Factory, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Doctor and the Devils (1985) Blu-ray Review

    The Doctor and the Devils (1985)

    Director: Freddie Francis

    Starring: Timothy Dalton, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Rea, Twiggy, Julian Sands & Patrick Stewart

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on a screenplay from famed Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and inspired by factual grave robbers Burke and Hare, a story of medicine and murder is birthed.  Executive Produced by Mel Brooks under his Brooksfilms (The Elephant Man, The Fly) banner, The Doctor and the Devils is a far cry from Brooks’ wildly known comedic outings but instead, a gothic thriller soaked in elegance and fear.  From the director of Girly and Tales from the Crypt, The Doctor and the Devils makes its unholy Blu-ray debut courtesy of Scream Factory.

    Set in 1820s Edinburgh, The Doctor and the Devils centers on Dr. Thomas Rock (Timothy Dalton, Licence to Kill), a noted anatomy professor obsessed with pushing the boundaries of modern medicine.  Dissatisfied with the few rotted cadavers provided to him for study, Rock recruits Robert Fallon (Jonathan Pryce, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) and Timothy Broom (Stephen Rea, V for Vendetta), two fiendish grave robbers to secure quality corpses.  Understanding their reward increases with fresher corpses, the duo begin committing murder in order to supply Dr. Rock with the very best.  Twiggy (Club Paradise), Julian Sands (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Phyllis Logan (Dowton Abbey) and Patrick Stewart (X-Men: Days of Future Past) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Basking in gothic aroma, The Doctor and the Devils is reminiscent of the period piece thrillers Hammer Films was renowned for two decades earlier.  Under the masterful direction of Hammer Films and Amicus Productions alumni Freddie Francis, The Doctor and the Devils captures an identifiable tone of dread and eloquence.  Released at the height of the slasher film craze, the film failed to ignite the box-office numbers but, delivers a lavish production with rich art direction and revered performances.  Timothy Dalton, prior to his tenure as James Bond, stars as a brilliant anatomist determined to push mankind’s understanding of the human body.  Surrounded by disapproving peers, Rock becomes obsessed with furthering his studies by examining fresher supplies of corpses.  Luckily, desperate street hustlers Fallon and Broom become captivated with providing the recently deceased for Dr. Rock.  Fueled by greed, Fallon and Broom quickly turn to murder in order to capitalize on their latest business endeavor.  Pryce and Rea steal the picture with their wild conviction and madcap energy as low level thieves with a weakness for booze and prostitutes.  In a charming surprise turn, Twiggy appears in a substantial role as an attractive working girl who, enters into a brief romance with Rock’s colleague, Dr. Murray (Julian Sands).  While, not graphically gory, the violence found in The Doctor and the Devils feels heightened due to the effectively vile nature of its devilish grave robbers.

    Gorgeously photographed and undeniably classy, The Doctor and the Devils suffers from narrative issues including, Dr. Rock’s anatomy obsessions which causes him to turn a blind eye to the morally wrong issue.  Akin to a mad scientist, Dr. Rock’s yearning to gain new insight is understandable but, without more internal conflict, his intentions feel slightly out of sorts in a more grounded film.  In addition, the lack of attention on Dr. Rock results in a blooming romance between the prostitute Jennie and Dr. Murray.  While, intriguing and nicely laid out, the effort feels wasted as the characters’ relations are hardly central to the plot.  Although, the film suffers from misguided character construction, The Doctor and the Devils is a visually ravishing period thriller with superb performances from Pryce and Rea.  Where the film lacks in cheap scares and overwhelming gore, it generally succeeds with sophisticated gothic grace.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Scream Factory presents The Doctor and the Devils with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Arriving with natural grain intact and relaying a very filmic appearance, this gothic thriller looks sound.  Skin tones are relayed warmly with dreary colors including blacks, browns and grays popping nicely.  In addition, the rotted and sometimes bloody cadavers offer nice contrast in their gory state to the otherwise unflashy color palette.  Although, crushing is minimal, black levels vary from clear to occasionally murky, making visibility difficult.  Overall, The Doctor and the Devils retains its fog-entrenched atmosphere of past period pieces with near perfect results.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, The Doctor and the Devils satisfies with always audible dialogue and exceptional balance of more chaotic scenes.  Moments of loud partying and heavy tavern drinking never overwhelm the mix but, instead rewards the viewer with its well handling of several components at one time.  Distortion or other anomalies are nonexistent in this nicely balanced, dialogue heavy picture.

    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Author/Film Historian Steve Haberman

    • Interviews with Executive Producer Mel Brooks, Producer Jonathan Sanger and Former Brooksfilms Development Executive Randy Auerbach (15:42): In this newly recorded conversation, the creative trio reminisce about the project’s early beginnings and the importance of withholding Mel Brooks’ name on most Brooksfilms releases in order to not raise expectations of a comedy.  This laid back, informal chat also finds the three colleagues recalling a Hollywood pastime when friendships were important not only to the artists but, also in getting projects off the ground.

    • Theatrical Trailer (1:32)

    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    Sophisticated and posh, The Doctor and the Devils is a maddening tale of obsession, murder and betrayal headlined by a stellar cast and executed by an icon of gothic cinema.  Largely inspired by the real life Burke and Hare, this cinematic grave robbing account delivers a suitable story but misfires with several character traits.  Best appreciated for Pryce and Rea’s memorable performances and its impactful production design, The Doctor and the Devils is a suitable period horror film made during a time that greatly lacked them.  Scream Factory delights fans with a near perfect audio and visual treatment of this often overlooked film along, with a decent spread of supplemental features that include insights from Film Historian Steve Haberman and Mel Brooks.  Not quite perfect, The Doctor and the Devils remains a classy love letter to the gothic outings of yesteryear with its tale of decadent grave robbing rooted in fact.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 4thThe Doctor and the Devils can be purchased via Shout! Factory, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

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

    Deliver Us from Evil (2014)

    Director: Scott Derrickson

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

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    MOVIE:

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

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

    RATING: 5/5

    AUDIO:

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

    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Scott Derrickson

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

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

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

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

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

    • Digital HD Code

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • 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 

  • 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

     

  • Leviathan (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Leviathan (1989)

    Director: George P. Cosmatos

    Starring: Peter Weller, Amanda Pays, Richard Creena, Daniel Stern & Ernie Hudson 

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of Tombstone comes an underwater exploration in terror starring a cast from all avenues of cult cinema.  Featuring special effects wizardry from master showman Stan Winston (Aliens, Predator), Leviathan submerges you deep below the ocean floor where something has gone horribly wrong.  Scream Factory, the horror off-shoot of Shout! Factory, proudly presents this oceanic horror film for the first time ever on Blu-ray!

    Leviathan centers on a deep-sea crew led by Steven Beck (Peter Weller, Robocop) in search of silver and other minerals.  Upon discovering a sunken vessel, the team unknowingly welcome a genetic experiment gone wrong on their sea station.  With futile hope of being rescued, the crew must fight for their survival against an aquatic monster.  Richard Crenna (First Blood), Amanda Pays (The Kindred), Daniel Stern (Home Alone), Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters), Michael Carmine (*batteries not included), Lisa Eilbacher (Beverly Hills Cop), Hector Elizondo (Last Man Standing) and Meg Foster (They Live) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    1989 was plagued to be the year of the underwater thriller.  Most famously, Director James Cameron’s The Abyss debuted with several lower-budgeted films such as DeepStar Six, The Evil Below and Lords of the Deep following.  Co-produced by Aurelio De Laurentiis (nephew of Dino De Laurentiis), Leviathan centers on a similar undersea setting with a sizable budget and a remarkably talented cast ranging from ghostbusters to robotic police officers.  Mere days away from wrapping their expedition up, Steven Beck (Weller) and his team unexpectedly come across a sunken Russian vessel.  Shortly after returning to their station, a horrific genetic experiment follows the team, infecting victims before becoming a hideous sea-monster with a hunger for blood.  Leviathan takes its time to establish the claustrophobic environment our characters reside in while, developing their unique personalities.  Admittedly, some may find the first half of this submerged thriller a bore as nothing monster orientated occurs, but the steady build enhances the viewers attachment to the entertaining cast.  As the infecting virus takes the lives of several crew members, a slimy, otherworldly creature is born from the remains of the victims.  Tension builds as the second act heavily borrows the special effects tactics, effectively utilized in John Carpenter’s The Thing combined with the suspenseful tone of Aliens to give a good show.  With survivors scant, Beck along with Willie (Pays) and Jones (Hudson), stock up on flame throwers and other oceanic power tools to combat the savage beast.  Meg Foster (Masters of the Universe) makes a brief appearance via satellite video as the expedition companies CEO that coldly delays the team’s rescue in order to keep matters quiet.  Beck and his remaining crew choose to take down the monster in order to return to the ocean surface alive.  

    Quick cuts and dim lighting keep Stan Winston’s underrated creature designs hidden but ultimately, increasing the film’s fear level.  Although, Leviathan tends to borrow elements from other sci-fi fare, the film is still one of the more effective undersea fright fests in the wake of Cameron’s big-budget, box-office smash.  Headlined by one of the more eclectic cult casts of the decade, Leviathan is a fun, spine-tingling time at sea involving a steroid-induced version of the Gill Man and Peter Weller cold-cocking Meg Foster.  Priceless!

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    Scream Factory presents Leviathan in a 1080p widescreen transfer bearing a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Surprisingly, the film is nearly free of any anomalies such as flakes and speckles with a healthy level of grain firmly intact.  Skin tones are relayed naturally with detail relatively crisp although, some close-ups appear not as sharp.  Far from a wildly colorful film, the sea station’s stainless steel and monotone colors come across precise.  In addition, submerged 16,000 feet below the surface, black levels are handled exceptionally well in this oceanic shocker with no crushing to speak of and all activity very visible.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Leviathan is very dialogue driven especially in the film’s first half which is perfectly crisp and audible.  Nice-sounding but generally contained, the mix is allowed to expand with Jerry Goldsmith’s (Chinatown, Poltergeist) soothing score that can be as calm as the sea or as ominously droning when danger is near.  Moments of more intense action give the film a more rewarding boost, enhancing the listening experience.  In addition, a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also included.

    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Leviathan - Monster Melting Pot (40:26): Creature Effects Artists Tom Woodruff Jr. (who also performed, albeit uncredited, the lead creature in the film as well as the Gillman in 1987’s The Monster Squad and as the titular monster in Pumpkinhead), Shannon Shea and Alec Gillis discuss the bombardment of underwater thrillers in 1989.  In addition, the trio speak of their working relationship with Stan Winston and the difficult design challenges of the dive suit costumes and much more.  This lengthy featurette is highly informative and shines a well deserved spotlight on the masters behind the scares.

    • Dissecting Cobb with Hector Elizondo (12:35): Elizondo discusses the humor and “every man” mentality he brought to his role of Cobb while, discussing the less than desirable conditions filming within the dive costumes.  The seasoned thespian also looks back with fond memories and gratitude towards his former cast members and special effects master Stan Winston.

    • Surviving Leviathan with Ernie Hudson (15:01): The Congo star recounts filming on location in Rome and his swimming inexperience which led the production to offer him lessons for his role.  Hudson’s dislike for pointlessly dying in a film resulted in his honorable fate in Leviathan.  Earnest and appreciative, Hudson is still moved when fans express their love for his work.

    • Theatrical Trailer (1:51)

    • More from Scream Factory: Trailers include Without Warning, Lake Placid, Saturn 3 and Swamp Thing.

    • Reversible cover art

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:

    Released in a year overloaded with deep sea expeditions uncovering something sinister, Leviathan is a noble, lower-budgeted effort compared to James Cameron’s mega expensive spectacle.  Featuring a wonderfully diverse cast of familiar faces and effective creature designs from Stan Winston and company, Leviathan kicks off slow but eventually builds to a suspense-driven climax akin to Aliens.  While, not the most original concept, Leviathan is still a fun execution in underwater terror that holds up nicely 25 years later.  Scream Factory’s Blu-ray treatment comes with a near perfect video and audio treatment joined by another informative and entertaining assortment of special features provided by the talented Aine Leicht (Deadly Eyes, Ginger Snaps).  How long can you hold your breath without adding this superior entry into your Scream Factory collection?

    RATING: 4/5  

  • Rage (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Rage (2014)

    Director: Paco Cabezas

    Starring: Nicolas Cage, Rachel Nichols, Danny Glover & Aubrey Peeples

    Released by: Image Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas) stars in this tense crime-drama from Paco Cabezas (Neon Flesh), the director’s first American production.  Fueled by revenge, the darkest of skeletons are revealed as Cage seeks justice for a loved one.  Surrounded by a strong supporting cast, Image Entertainment proudly presents Rage, a thrilling tale of retribution and dark pasts.

    Rage centers on Paul Maguire (Cage), a successful businessman and former mob criminal.  When his teenage daughter, Caitlin (Aubrey Peeples, Sharknado), is kidnapped, Paul rounds up the old gang and reverts back to his old tactics to settle the score.  Consumed by vengeance, Paul’s journey will send him down a road of betrayal and dark secrets from his past.  Rachel Nichols (Star Trek), Danny Glover (The Color Purple), Max Fowler (The Killing) and Peter Stormare (22 Jump Street) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    In recent years, Nicolas Cage has caught flack for his eccentric and dime a dozen choosing of roles.  Many would consider his recent work to be lazy and lack the depth of some of his earlier performances.  Contrarily, Cage is an actor who has perfected his craft without need to prove much else.  After 30 plus years in the business, the Face/Off star has earned arguably more respect for his love of playing in the acting sandbox with little concern for critics or awards ceremonies.  That said, moviegoers tend to forget that for every Stolen, Bangkok Dangerous and Drive Angry, a Matchstick Men, Adaptation. and The Weather Man exists in Cage’s vast filmography.  For better or worse, Rage lies somewhere in the middle of mediocrity for the Academy Award winner.  Former gangster turned legit, Paul Maguire (Cage), falls back on old habits in the aftermath of his daughter’s disappearance.  Turning to his closest allies, Maguire’s violent past returns to haunt him as the group seek revenge.  Early on, Cage feels slightly stiff and reserved before thankfully morphing into a rather inspired performance.  The grim fate of his daughter finds Maguire reigniting a mob war, causing havoc everywhere he goes.  Cage channels a wealth of emotions as seeks the truth and the perpetrators responsible.  Countless shootouts and high-speed car chases ensue while Detective St. John’s (Danny Glover) patience wears thin and Maguire’s wife Vanessa (Nichols) longs for the safety of her husband.  In addition, Rage re-teams, albeit briefly, Cage with Peter Stormare as his former crime boss.  The pair were formerly pitted against each other in 1999’s underappreciated 8MMRage’s biggest issues stem from its slow-building first half, leaving the viewer underwhelmed as Cage searches for his emotions.  Furthermore, in the wake of Taken’s success, this revenge-fueled narrative feels redundant and not a far stretch from Cage’s other recent roles (Drive Angry, Stolen).  Luckily, the final act proves to be more exciting as the mob war intensifies to an action-filled head matched with a surprising twist and justifiably grim ending.

    Ultimately, Rage does little to inject anything fresh to the revenge-thriller genre.  After a bumpy start, Cage does manage to conjure the right emotions to satisfyingly sell an emotionally distressed father.  Surrounded by memorable and competent supporting actors, Rage is entirely Cage’s show with little room to spotlight others.  Violent gun wars and car chases with the Con Air star at the wheel of a Mustang turn the excitement notches up on Rage’s thrill factor.  In addition, the unexpected twist and somber conclusion work to the film’s benefit.  While slightly generic in a post-Taken filmscape, Rage is far from Cage’s best or worst, but still finds the star serving up a decent performance.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Rage is presented in a 1080p widescreen transfer sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally on the Red One Camera, Rage is free of any anomalies such as dirt or scratches.  In addition, skin tones are relayed accurately with nice detail picked up in facial features and wardrobe.  Black levels are handled well with no noticeable crushing to report.  Image Entertainment have provided a terrific transfer for this action-packed thrill ride that should satisfy all viewers.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Rage handles high-octane shootouts and engine revving car chases with thunderous force.  Laurent Eyquem’s heavy guitar-led score is another audio highlight that will please your speakers.  Dialogue, while audible, felt slightly underwhelming and a pinch on the low side.  Overall, this impressive mix is more than satisfactory with moments of dialogue possibly requiring an increase in volume.

    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - The Making of Rage: This short 5-minute EPK is broken down into three sections that showcase the principal cast discussing the film, its themes and being directed by Paco Cabezas.

    - Deleted Scenes: Several omitted sequences are provided including an alternate opening and ending.

    - DVD Copy

    RATING: 2/5

    OVERALL:

    As a dedicated fan of Cage’s work, Rage is a decent entry in the thespians recent output but does little to revolutionize the revenge subgenre. While, cold in the beginning, Cage warms up to the viewer and ultimately delivers a satisfying role filled with emotion and range.  Danny Glover, Rachel Nichols and others provide nice appearances but are hardly on-screen long enough to make a lasting impression.  Director Paco Cabezas’s first foray into American moviemaking is a suitable effort with a focused eye and close attention to action sequences.  Image Entertainment’s video and audio specifications are more than pleasing to the eyes and ears while, special features are unfortunately minimal.  An exciting second half and a respectfully welcome dark ending allows Rage to rise slightly above mediocrity.

    RATING: 3.5/5

  • 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 Baby (1973) Blu-ray Review

    The Baby (1973)
    Director: Ted Post
    Starring: Anjanette Comer, Ruth Roman, Marianne Hill, Suzanne Zenor & David Manzy
    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The brainchild of Screenwriter Abe Polsky (Brute Corps) comes one of the most bizarre films to emerge from the 1970s.  Directed by Ted Post (Beneath the Planet of the Apes), this shocking suburban set tale will leave you hypnotized at what unfolds on screen.  Fully restored from the original negative, Severin Films proudly presents The Baby on Blu-ray for the first time ever!  

    The Baby stars Anjanette Comer (Lepke) as Ann Gentry, an L.A. county social worker assigned to the case of Mrs. Wadsworth (Ruth Roman).  Living with her two attractive daughters and mentally-handicapped adult son, known as “Baby”, who lives and acts like an infant, Ann realizes something is astray with this family and their treatment of Baby.  Unnatural attachments and sexual abuse are only the beginning for what Ann uncovers in this slice of 70s shock cinema.  Marianne Hill (Messiah of Evil), Suzanne Zenor (Lucky Lady) and David Manzy (Herbie Rides Again) as Baby co-star.

    MOVIE:
    Wildly unusual, The Baby weaves a unique tale of abuse with a social worker determined to save the abusee.  Ann Gentry (Comer) is tasked with the eccentric Mrs. Wadsworth and her severely retarded son, developmentally stunted to acting like a baby.  Genuinely intrigued, Ann believes she can help against the unwillingness of Mrs. Wadsworth and her two daughters.  The family has made a living abusing Baby at the hands of an electric prod, enforcing negative behavior on him to ensure his low intellect.  In addition, incestuous behavior is hinted at as sister, Germaine (Hill), disrobes and enters Baby’s crib.  Another strange sequence occurs when Baby’s babysitter consoles him by unexpectedly breast-feeding before Mrs. Wadsworth and her daughters emerge to brutally whip her.  Ruth Roman is perfectly cast as the raspy-voiced Mrs. Wadsworth.  Reminiscent of Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Roman captures an unstable mother with a devious stare in her eyes.  Rarely without a cigarette in hand, Roman steals the show as an emotional time-bomb ready to abuse anyone who crosses her path.  Marianne Hill and Suzanne Zenor compliment Roman as her two seductive yet, equally disturbed daughters.

    Tensions increase as Mrs. Wadsworth and company become incessantly irritated with Ann’s frequent visits.  Repressing a dark past of her own, Ann is committed to forging a new life for Baby.  Removing him from the demented clutches of his family, The Baby leads to a final act that feels more akin to a traditional horror film.  Mrs. Wadsworth and her daughters track Ann’s whereabouts to retrieve what’s rightfully theirs before a deadly final confrontation ensues.  The Baby is an unsettling picture that concludes on an equally twisted ending, never seen coming.  Stellar performances and sound writing make this abnormal film unlike anything you’ve seen before.  
    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:
    The Baby is presented in a 1080p transfer with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of minor scratches, the film looks rather clean and sports a healthy grain layer.  The Baby is never overly colorful, instead opting for a more monotone color scheme which is relayed rather accurately.  Detail is nice in close-ups with black levels slightly soft yet, visible.  Restored from the same negative used for Severin Films‘ original DVD release, The Baby makes a marginal leap to the Blu-ray format with satisfactory results.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a LPCM 2.0 Mono mix, The Baby relays dialogue clearly with only sporadic instances of static.  Composer Gerald Fried’s (I Bury the Living, Gilligan’s Island) classical sounding strings offer nice emphasis on more dramatic sequences and are nicely projected.  A decent mix that will surely suffice an obscure oddity like The Baby.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:
    All features found on Severin Films‘ past DVD release have been kindly ported over.

    - Tales from the Crib - Audio Interview with Director Ted Post: Post provides a chatty and informative 20-minute interview explaining Screenwriter Abe Polsky’s year-long pursuit of him to direct the project.  Post goes on to explain his original hesitation with taking on such a dim project before eventually signing on.  Casting and the sexual nature of the film are also discussed.

    - Baby Talk - Audio Interview with Star David Mooney: Mooney, credited as David Manzy, provides a 15-minute interview charting his earlier experiences on the Disney project, Herbie Rides Again, before landing his unique role in The Baby.  Mooney spent time observing mentally-handicapped children to prepare for his role.  In addition, chemistry amongst the cast and the occasional friction between Comer and Roman is also discussed.  

    - Theatrical Trailer

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Morbid and shocking, The Baby casts a deeply engaging spell of peculiarity that John Waters would be proud of.  Starring an all-star cast, with Ruth Roman stealing the show, The Baby draws you into its weird world of perversity, not letting go until its jaw-dropping finale.  While, not a drastic improvement, Severin Films has surprised fans with an HD boost to this highly recommended, unsettling flick that deserves to be cradled by offbeat cinema enthusiasts.
    RATING: 4.5/5

  • The Mechanic (1972) Blu-ray Review

    The Mechanic (1972)
    Director: Michael Winner
    Starring: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn & Jill Ireland
    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing their working relationship, Director Michael Winner (The Sentinel) and star Charles Bronson (Mr. Majestyk) re-team for a tale about professionalism.  Tough and weathered, Bronson brings his always reliable acting chops to the table that would propel him to superstardom two short years later with Death Wish.  Stylistically taken for granted today, The Mechanic stands tall as a character-driven action thriller with stellar performances and an effective score from Composer Jerry Fielding (The Wild Bunch).  Available in a limited edition of 3,000 units, Twilight Time proudly presents this long appreciated Winner/Bronson collaboration for the first time on Blu-ray!

    The Mechanic stars Charles Bronson as Arthur Bishop, a professional hitman feeling the stress of his work.  After striking up a friendship with a hungry up-and-comer (Jan-Michael Vincent), the student/teacher partnership slowly unravels into dangerous territory.  Keenan Wynn (Nashville) and Jill Ireland (Hard Times) co-star.

    MOVIE:
    Kicking off with a 16-minute dialogue free introduction, The Mechanic quickly draws you into the gritty Los Angeles landscape and Bronson’s calculated surveillance of his next victim.  The fly on the wall approach as we witness Bronson’s crafty steps to ensure the job looks like an accident makes the viewer feel as if they are part of the hit.  Shortly after, Arthur Brooks (Bronson) is summoned by a friend of his late father (Keenan Wynn) for protection only to have Brooks double cross him in the way of business.  Ruthless yet reserved, Brooks is growing tired of his lifestyle and yearns for normalcy.  Returning home to what appears to be a beautiful girlfriend (played by Bronson’s real life wife, Jill Ireland) anxiously awaiting his presence, the two engage in a night of passionate lovemaking.  The following morning, Brooks is seen paying the woman and complimenting her on her role-playing skills, further cementing Brooks’ desire for a regular existence.  The void in Brooks’ life is filled in the form of Steve McKeena, (Jan-Michael Vincent), son of Brook’s last hit.  Surprisingly, McKeena’s determination impresses the seasoned hitman and the two form a partnership.  Deadly and less cautious, McKeena is the perfect contrast to Brooks’ old-school yet effective methods.  Thrilling sequences for the team include a hit gone wrong, escalating into a high-stakes motorcycle chase.

    Director Michael Winner’s focused and quick cut style keeps the energy high as Brooks and McKeena’s relationship is tested as the apprentice challenges the teacher.  Brooks’ anxiety and frequent fainting bouts doesn’t help matters as McKeena becomes more unpredictable.  Leading to an exciting third act with twists at every turn, The Mechanic is a testament to the changing climate in Hollywood at the time where gritty, independent cinema was beginning to take hold.  Remade in 2011 with Jason Statham (Crank) and Ben Foster (Lone Survivor) starring, Michael Winner’s original 1972 thriller maintains true style and Bronson’s steady performance would help reinvent the action star image for a new decade.
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Twilight Time presents The Mechanic with a 1080p transfer sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Retaining natural grain, The Mechanic looks very pleasing and accurately captures its 70s city landscapes.  Flakes and specks are at a minimum with colors and detail popping nicely.  With the exception of some softer-looking scenes, The Mechanic looks more than satisfying.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, The Mechanic comes in loud and rather robust at times.  Dialogue is crisp while scenes of gunfire and explosions fill your speakers with force.  No noticeable distortion was found, making the audio treatment on par with the film’s excellent transfer.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Cinematographer Richard H. Kline: Moderated by film historian Nick Redman, Kline sits down for his first commentary discussing his early beginnings as a camera operator at Columbia Pictures as well as making over 100 films under Sam Katzman before eventually becoming a director of photography.  Kline recalls his working relationship with Director Michael Winner on several projects and regards him as a focused and talented artist.  Redman does his homework and engages Kline with great questions making this commentary a very beneficial one to listen to.

    - Isolated Score Track: Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

    - 6-page booklet: Includes a well done essay by Julie Kirgo accompanied with screenshots from the film.

    - Theatrical Trailer

    - MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Exciting and riveting, The Mechanic is a film many others try to replicate today with lesser results.  Simple in execution, the film thrives on Bronson and Vincent’s chemistry as well as the edge of your seat action sequences that helped propel Winner as a mainstay in the genre.  Twilight Time’s limited edition Blu-ray is a knockout with a clean, natural appearance and a lively sound mix.  In addition, Cinematographer Richard H. Kline’s first audio commentary is an informative one, well worth a listen.  Bronson fans will revel in this pre-Death Wish examination of a skilled hitman at odds with his apprentice.
    RATING: 4/5

  • 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