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  • The Skull (1965) Blu-ray Review

    The Skull (1965)

    Director: Freddie Francis

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

    Released by: KL Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • One Million Years B.C. (1966) Blu-ray Review

    One Million Years B.C. (1966)

    Director: Don Chaffey

    Starring: Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Martine Beswick, Robert Brown, Percy Herbert & Yvonne Horner

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Exchanging gothic ambiance and monsters for prehistoric excellence, One Millions Years B.C. would skyrocket to become Hammer Film Productions’ biggest box-office smash and one of science fiction’s finest efforts of the era.  After being banished by his own tribe, Tumak (John Richardson, Black Sunday) scours the desolate wasteland and stumbles upon the generous and resourceful Shell People.  Finding a kindred spirit in the beautiful Loana (Raquel Welch, Fantastic Voyage), the two decide to face the land on their own, confronting a siege of deadly dinosaurs and other ferocious beasts on their journey.  Guided only by a documentary-like narration by Vic Perrin (The Outer Limits) and grunts of caveman lingo, One Million Years B.C. thrives on its visual splendor of gorgeous rocky vistas and fantastical elements that find our heroes pitted against giant iguanas, spiders and brilliantly conceived stop-motion dinos.  Engineered by Harryhausen-effect driven wizardry and keen direction by Don Chaffey (Jason and the Argonauts), the scantly-clad sight of sex symbol Raquel Welch in the starring role not only is invaluable to the film’s success but, a lasting testament to its impact on popular culture.  Featuring barbaric beatdowns amongst the many tribesmen, soaring Pteranodons flying off with victims and a volcanic finale, One Million Years B.C. is a towering achievement of special effects magic, ranking as one of the best fantasy features of its time.

    Gorgeously restored in 4K, KL Studio Classics welcomes One Million Years B.C. to domestic high-definition with a flawless 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Colorful and crisp, filmic quality is excellent while, skin tones remain immaculate with detail in the film’s stop-motion critters relaying their many intricacies with ease.  A first-rate achievement that will leave fans young and old bewitched by its restoration, stampedes of praise can only be recommended.  Equipped with an equally satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that gives prominence to the thundering crash of dinosaur attacks and the more subtle grunts of its human characters, the track satisfies on all fronts.  Appreciatively appeasing completists of the film, the preferred International Cut (1:40:37) and shorter U.S. Cut (1:31:59) are included on separate discs with Disc 1’s supplemental offerings featuring an expert Audio Commentary with Film Historian Tim Lucas, an Animated Montage of Posters and Images (3:05) and the Original International Theatrical Trailer (3:00).  Joining the U.S. Cut on Disc 2, bonus features include, vintage offerings such as Raquel Welch: In the Valley of the Dinosaurs (7:45), An Interview with Ray Harryhausen (12:29) and a 2016-shot Interview with Martine Beswick (16:36).  Lastly, the Original U.S. Theatrical Trailer (3:08) rounds out the disc’s extras.  A fantastical fun time that highlights some of Harryhausen’s finest stop-motion effects work and the sexy radiance of Raquel Welch, One Million Years B.C. is a primeval journey into the past that glows with imagination and wonder.  Already ranking as one of the year’s genre must-haves, KL Studio Classics’ 4K restoration is a stunning sight that includes both cuts of the film and a healthy spread of bonus content sure to please cavemen from all walks of life.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, One Million Years B.C. can be purchased via 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.