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Currently showing posts tagged Witchcraft

  • Cat People (1942) Blu-ray Review

    Cat People (1942)

    Director: Jacques Tourneur

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

    Released by: The Criterion Collection

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • 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.

  • The Witch (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Witch (2015)

    Director: Robert Eggers

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

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • The Legacy (1978) Blu-ray Review

    The Legacy (1978)

    Director: Richard Marquand

    Starring: Katharine Ross, Sam Elliot, John Standing, Margaret Tyzack & Roger Daltrey

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Director Richard Marquand (Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi), The Legacy centers on Maggie (Katharine Ross, The Stepford Wives), along with boyfriend Pete (Sam Elliot, Mask), on business in the English countryside.  After being involved in a car accident, the couple are invited back to the fellow driver’s lavish estate only to be surprised by other guests expecting them.  With an uneasiness filling the air, the houseguests begin unexpectedly dying as supernatural forces are suspected.  John Standing (The Elephant Man), Margaret Tyzack (2001: A Space Odyssey), Ian Hogg (Rasputin), Charles Gray (The Devil Rides Out) and Roger Daltrey (Tommy) co-star.

    Invited overseas by a mystery client, interior decorator Maggie Walsh (Ross) and hunky boyfriend Pete Danner (Elliot) travel to the English countryside only to be sidetracked by a car accident.  Safe with the exception of Pete’s motorcycle, the couple are graciously invited back to their fellow driver Jason Mountolive’s (Standing) extravagant mansion.  Greeted by several houseguests already expecting them, Maggie and Pete are introduced to their powerful new acquaintances as Jason’s declining health is the basis for their visit.  Summoned to his death bed, Maggie is bestowed with a sinister ring also worn by her fellow guests that refuses to leave her finger.  As Maggie and Pete’s desire to leave the estate are slyly denied, the possibility of black magic being conducted turns frighteningly real as the visitors meet fatal ends under questionable circumstances.  A disturbing drowning, chicken bone choking, fiery inferno and shattered mirror shards claim Jason’s unsavory business partners as the couple discover a shocking lineage between witchcraft and Jason’s family line.  Imperative that Jason’s legacy lives on and seduced by the satanic allure of power, Maggie’s fate becomes sealed.

    Slow-building yet increasingly tense, The Legacy carries the torch for satanic frights popularized earlier in the decade by The Exorcist and The Omen.  While not hardly as praised as its predecessors, Director Richard Marquand’s black magic opus weaves an intriguing, character driven tale with an eclectic cast and eerie imagery of a gothic mansion and creepy cats.  Although plot holes can sometimes be glaring and its narrative explanations slightly overindulgent, the film’s minimal but effective death sequences and dark conclusion easily make up for most of its shortcomings.  Critically divided and commercially unsuccessful, The Legacy remains an underappreciated occult tale forgotten in the wake of the burgeoning slasher movement.

    Boasting a new high-definition transfer, Scream Factory presents The Legacy in 1080p with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of modest levels of speckling, the picture is noticeably sharp with a natural grain layer and impressive detail in facial features giving way to the slightest wrinkles surrounding Ross’ eyes.  Skin tones are inviting while dual colors of a particular white cat’s eyes and the film’s blood dripping deaths pop exceptionally well.  Meanwhile, black levels are decently inky with only moderate instances of flakes apparent in more dimly lit moments.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is predominately clear with an occasion of hushed tones requiring an increase in volume.  Kiki Dee’s main title song and more striking sound effects including, gunshots ring loudly sans distortion.  Special features include, Anne V. Coates: An Editing Legacy (13:47) where the charmingly elder editor discuss her first introduction to cinema seeing Wuthering Heights and her admiration for the late Richard Marquand.  In addition, The Make-Up Effects of The Legacy: Robin Grantham (10:46), TV Spot (0:32), Radio Spot (0:29), Theatrical Trailer (1:43), Photo Gallery (2:32) and a Reversible Cover Art round out the supplemental package.

    Commonly forgotten in the annals of 70s horror cinema, The Legacy compliments satanic pictures before it with its unorthodox plot and diverse cast including, a brief but effective appearance by The Who’s Roger Daltrey.  With several murders, Sam Elliot showcasing his bare asset and supernatural happenings at every turn, The Legacy is casting a spell to be resurrected by curious viewers.  Graced with a newly struck transfer, Scream Factory ushers the film into a new era looking better than ever.  Accompanied with newly produced bonus features compliments of the consistently talented Aine Leicht, The Legacy is devilishly worth dancing with.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available September 15th from Scream Factory, The Legacy can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Ghosthouse (1988) / Witchery (1988) Blu-ray Review

    Ghosthouse (1988) / Witchery (1988)

    Director(s): Umberto Lenzi / Fabrizio Laurenti

    Starring: Lara Wendel, Greg Scott, Mary Sellers, Ron Houck & Martin Jay / David Hasselhoff, Linda Blair, Catherine Hickland, Annie Ross & Hildegard Knef 

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Released in their home country of Italy as part of the La Casa series, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, invites viewers to a ghostly pairing of terror.  First up, Ghosthouse centers on a group of visitors exploring a deserted house with a dark past.  Before long, the unsuspecting friends find themselves at the mercy of a disturbing little girl and her possessed clown doll.  Next up, Witchery finds an assortment of people stranded on an island resort during a dangerous storm.  With no contact to the mainland, an evil witch begins weaving her dark practices on the unwanted visitors.  David Hasselhoff (Knight Rider), Linda Blair (The Exorcist), Catherine Hickland (One Life to Live), Annie Ross (Pump Up the Volume) and Hildegard Knef (Fedora) star.  

    From Director Umberto Lenzi (Spasmo, Cannibal Ferox) (using the pseudonym Humphrey Humbert), Ghosthouse opens on the deadly tragedy of a couple at the hands of their young daughter.  20 years later, Paul (Greg Scott) and his girlfriend Martha (Lara Wendel, Tenebre) receive a disturbing radio frequency that is traced back to the location of the murders, prompting the couple to investigate.  Upon their arrival, Paul and Martha  meet a group of vacationers who have made the abandoned house their temporary residence.  As supernatural evidence becomes more apparent, the friends are haunted by the ghostly apparition of the murderous little girl and her demonic clown doll.  Predominately consisting of first and only time performers, Ghosthouse suffers from laughable performances and eye-rolling dialogue that overshadows any intended sense of fear.  In addition, while the group is confronted by a series of frightening elements including, a homicidal caretaker, a ferocious Doberman and a severed head in a washing machine, the film fails to use them to its narrative advantage.  As the hauntings begin claiming victims, Paul and Martha rush to uncover the true history behind the house leading to an absurdly nonsensical ending.  While its premise and intriguing poster art fail to live up to their full potential, Ghosthouse still retains a splash of fun rooted in its charmingly awful characters and bizarrely funky score that will viewers bopping their head instead of covering their eyes.

    Utilizing its alternate Witchcraft (Evil Encounters) title, Witchery finds Leslie (Leslie Cumming), along with photographer boyfriend Gary (David Hasselhoff), investigating an abandoned island resort for her upcoming book on witchcraft.  Shortly after, a family of prospective buyers for the property, including the pregnant Jane (Linda Blair), board the island just as the tide grows dangerous.  Stranded, the two groups are forced to remain at the eerie location just as nightmarish visions and the arrival of an evil witch take hold.  While the film tends to overcomplicate its simple plot in favor of more sinister sequences, Witchery excels with its murder set pieces including, a mouth being sewn shut, a neck puncture via stuffed swordfish and a grizzly crucification.  Headlined by notable faces, Hasselhoff and Blair feel nearly wasted as the Knight Rider star spends the bulk of the runtime failing at devirginizing his girlfriend while, Blair is left to endlessly faint before a cash-in possession scene during the film’s fleeting moments.  As the witch’s complicated process of being reincarnated comes full circle, Witchery’s attempts at plot development are too little, too late with its nightmarish imagery serving as the film’s true saving grace.

    Scream Factory presents both Ghosthouse and Witchery with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.66:1 aspect ratios.  Appearing slightly soft with occasional instances of waxy complexions, both films arrive free of any discernible scratches or scuffs making way for  a remarkably clean picture.  In addition, colors are pleasing while black levels are well-handled and visible in more dimly lit scenes.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, both films project dialogue clearly with their respective scores and sound effects decently relayed but never overly impressive.  Finally, special features include, a Ghosthouse Trailer (2:53) and a Witchery Trailer (3:01).

    Continuing their pairing of appropriately themed fright flicks, Scream Factory treats fans to a generous helping of Italian horror with help from possessed clowns, witchcraft and a sexually frustrated Hoff.  While Ghosthouse is a hilarious mess that can be appreciated for its unintentionally funny performances and lack of logic, Witchery ranks as the preferred feature with its death sequences outshining its more prominent cast members.  Meanwhile, Scream Factory delivers both films with appreciable bumps in quality that surpass previous home video releases.  Different strokes for different folks, Ghosthouse / Witchery may not be perfect but, both have their merits worth discovering.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available June 30th from Scream Factory, Ghosthouse / Witchery can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.