Thursday, October 20, 2016

BODY SNATCHERS (1993) (Blu-ray Review)

Label: Warner Archive
Rating: R
Duration: 87 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Abel Ferrara
Cast:  Gabrielle Anwar, Terry Kinney, Billy Wirth, Forest Whitaker, Meg Tilly, Reilly Murphy, Christine Elise, R. Lee Ermey, Kathleen Doyle, G. Elvis Phillips

Abel Ferrara directed this adaptation of the original Jack Finney novel source material,one that overlooked beyond reason in my opinion. The story has screenwriting contributions from some genre heavy-hitters including Larry Cohen (The Stuff) and Stuart Gordon (From Beyond), who ingeniously transported the story onto a military base, one of the most conformist environments imaginable, which makes for an eerie setting to be sure, for if everyone is already a conformist how do you know when they've been turned into an alien clone? 

In the modern update we have EPA inspector Steve Malone (Terry Kinney) arriving on a military base in Alabama run by Gen. Platt (R. Lee Ermey), Malone is there to investigate any environmental effects caused by a chemical weapons storage facility to the surrounding area, which doesn't sit to well with Platt. Along with Malone are his wife Carol (Meg Tilly), young son Andy (Reilly Murphy) and teen daughter Marti (Gabrielle Anwar). While Malone makes his rounds taking soil and water sample around the base he receives the stink-eye from everyone, while young Andy becomes convinced that his classmates are creepy clones after a bizarre fingerpainting assignment. Marti befriends the rebellious Jenn (Christine Elise) who just happens to be the daughter of the base commander and the two bond quickly, sharing a mutual distaste for authority and the claustrophobic military base lifestyle. 

A creepy encounter at a gas station on the way to the base informs us that something is wrong right away, but as the family settle in on the base things get more creepy, beginning with Jenn's alcoholic mother who succumbs to the now familiar alien pod menace becoming an oddly Stepford Wives type mom who begins playing bridge with the other base moms, which is not typical behavior for the heavy drinker, setting off all sorts of alarms for Jenn. Then there is the base psychologist Major Collins (Forest Whitaker) who notices an abundance of paranoia amongst the soldiers on the base, he asks Malone early on if that could have anything to do with the chemicals that might be seeping into the soil on the base, but Steve assures him that those are not any symptoms he would associate with these particular chemicals, though it soon becomes apparent that something strange is happening on the base, as the soldiers are replaced by replicating pods. 

The movie carries over much of the paranoia from the previous incarnations of the story, including dump trucks going from house to house with the new alien-impersonators tossing the husks of their human hosts into the trash heap, which was always something that chilled me in the Kaufman version. This being the 90s the special effects have been somewhat upgraded, there's is thankfully not a lot of reliance on digital effects which were in their infancy at the time, instead we get some great pod designs with elongated tendrils that wrap themselves around the host before assimilating them, most of it is good stuff. Particularly effective is a scene in a infirmary where we witness the varying stages of the transformation, including what happens when the process is halted before it can finish, more good stuff. 

About the only effects that didn't work for me was a poorly composited shot of someone falling from a helicopter towards the ends which made me chuckle, but that Ferrara was able to make the process of transformation so creepy and visceral is an accomplishment, though nothing here affected me as much as the scene in the '78 version in the backyard where the pods nearly snatch Sutherland's character, though a few come close, including a scene of Marti being cloned while asleep in the bathtub, a well-staged scenario during which we see how the clones are birthed from the pods. Also love that they keep the alien clones screech when they spot a human, there's a nice call back to the iconic end to the '78 version here. 

This version of the story is overlooked as both an adaptation of the source material, a 90s horror entry and in the Ferrara canon, it is worth seeking this one out and adding it to your collection. The movie has been upgraded to Blu-ray from Warner Archive with a new 2K scan of the interpositive in the original aspect ratio for the first time since the laserdisc! The image looks crisp with nice clarity and depth, a layer of fine film grain is intact and well-resolved while colors are appropriately vibrant when called upon. A lot of this movie takes place at night in the dark so it is wonderful that the black levels and shadow detail are so strong and deep. Audio on the disc comes y way of surround DTS-HD MA track and sounds great, well-balanced and crisp. The score from composer Joe Delia is really good, adding an extra layer of dread and paranoia to the proceedings. The disc includes optional English subtitles are provided. 

I love the A/V on the disc, no complaints whatsoever in those areas, this comes highly recommended. I do regret that we don't get any additional extras such as deleted scenes or interviews with the cast and crew, an Abel Ferrara commentary would have been appreciated, but to have an HD upgrade in the correct aspect ratio is pretty fantastic. 


SPECIAL EFFECTS (1984) (Blu-ray Review)

Label: Olive Films
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 106 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Larry Cohen
Cast:  Zoe Tamerlis, Eric Bogosian, Brad Rijn, Kevin O’connor

Director Larry Cohen is probably most remembered for his horror movie, a series of seriously entertaining b-movies like It’s Alive (1974), God Told Me To (1976), Q the Winged Serpent (1982) and The Stuff (1985), he is also the screenwriter of William Lustig's Maniac Cop (1988) and the Abel Ferrara's 90s remake of Body Snatchers, the latter of which was just re issued on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive. Horror fans might not be aware of his other non-horror movies, in the 80s he made a handful of thrillers, notably Special Effects (1984) starring Zoe Tamerlis (Ms .45) in a dual-role, one worth re visiting on Blu-ray from Olive Films. 

Wunderkind director Christopher Neville (Eric Bogosian, Talk Radio) s a filmmaker whose career is in fast decline following the box office flop of his latest movie, a big-budget special effects movie. A desperate wanna-be actress named Mary Jean (Zoe Tamerlis) tracks him down at his NYC townhouse hoping to make a connection and to be cast in his next movie. After some short conversation they end up in bed but when the ditsy actress insults he strangles her in bed while secretly filming the whole thing on  a series of hidden 16mm cameras. Afterward he dumps her nude body in her own car on Coney Island. 

Mary Jean's estranged husband Keefe (Brad Rijn) becomes the prime suspect in the murder when he shows up in town looking for her, but the murderous director comes up with the idea of using the snuff footage in his next film, a true-life movie about the murder of the aspiring actress he killed! To that end he bails the husband out of jail and lawyers him up, casting him in the movie playing himself. Neville casts a Mary-Jean lookalike named Elaine (also Tamerlis) to play the ditsy doomed actress opposite her real-life hubby. 

Neville manages to manipulate everyone to his own ends, even Det. Lt. Philip Delroy (Kevin O'Connor) is brought on board as an associate producer on the movie, its a dangerous game but the devious director masterfully casts and manipulates all the players, weaving a web of deceit which will hopefully allow him to incorporate his snuff film into the finished product. 

Cohen wrote and directed a seedy movie right here that is a fun thriller with a decent cast of characters. Zoe Tamerlis of Ms. 45 looks great on screen and shows some decent depth of character both as the ditsy wanna-be actress and the lookalike actress portraying her in the movie, she also look great in her many nude scenes, she definitely didn't mind baring some skin. Brad Rijn is just alright as the hot-tempered husband caught up in the director's movie madness, he seems a bit wooden and one-note. Bogosian is also decent as the self-obsessed director who will do anything to make his snuff film, manipulating everyone around him, unknowingly sewing his own seeds of destruction, this was his first movie, he would next go on to appear in Scorsese's Talk Radio which would really showcase his talents. 

Special Effects is a fun thriller, casting an evil-eye on the underbelly of Hollywood and the dark side of low-budget movie making, how it seems to cast a spell on all involved. I think there are quite a few moments of inspiration here, it is twisted how the prime suspect in the murder is playing himself in the movie, that the real murderer hides his crime within the movie he is making about the murder, that the lead detective would be sucked into the production, this is twisted stuff. My favorite scene is the director strangling someone with length of film stock, that's good stuff. 

Cohen always managed to make his cheap production appear more expensive than they were, the budget is right there on the screen, with some nice atmospheric lighting with luminous moments of red and green light that fill the screen and give it some depth with glowing NYC neon and gritty imagery throughout, even Cohen's cheapest productions looked like they cost a bundle to make, and this is no different. The design and layout f Neville's townhouse is a definite highlight, a very creep place when you get down to it. 

Audio/Video: Larry Cohen's Special Effects arrives on Blu-ray from distributor Olive Films framed in 1.85 widescreen looking nicely consistent. That 80s film stock can be rough but what we get is sourced from good elements with very little in the way of damage to the frame, a few white speckles now and again seems to be the worse. It can be a bit grainy in the darker scenes but nothing too awful, this is a consistent and nicely detailed image. The lone audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo tracks that sounds crisp and clean, nicely balanced with the synth score from Michael Minard (The Mutilator) score coming through nicely. It may not be the most dynamic audio track, but it does the job, optional English subtitles are included. 

Extras on the disc are slim but above average for Olive Films, we get a nicely candid audio commentary with Director Larry Cohen who is always a great listen, a storied director with a storied career who is adept at storytelling when it comes to the making of his movies. The track is moderated by director Steve Mitchell who is making a doc about about Larry Cohen titled King Cohen, which I cannot wait to watch!

Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary with Director Larry Cohen moderated by filmmaker Steve Mitchel
- Trailer

Special Effects is a fun and stylish thriller from Larry Cohen, I prefer his horror movies but was is a fun detour away from his horror stuff, fans who might not be aware of it should check this out, the guy was always an interesting director, and this new Olive Films release looks and sounds good in HD, well worth looking into. 

MANHATTAN BABY (1982) (Blu-ray Review)

3-Disc Limited Edition 
Label: Blue Underground 
Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 89 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, DTS-HD Mono , Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX; Dolby Digital Mono with Optional English, French and Spanish Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Christopher Connelly, Martha Taylor, Brigitta Boccoli, Giovanni Frezza, Cinzia de Ponti, Cosimo Cinieri, Andrea Bosic, Carlo De Mejo, Enzo Marino Bellanich, Mario Moretti, Lucio Fulci, Tonino Pulci

Ten-year old Suzie Hacker (Martha Taylor) is on vacation in Egypt with archaeologist father Professor George Hacker (Christopher Connelly, 1990: The Bronx Warriors) when she a weird blind woman approaches her in the city bazaar and gifts her with an ancient Egyptian amulet cursed with evil power. While this is happening her father is excavating a cursed Egyptian tomb and is struck blind when zapped with an 80s awesome laser blast to his eyes, the optical effect is dated but still fun for an old time like myself. These opening scenes in Egypt are fantastic, though perhaps not a shocker to Lucio Fulci fans they are a bit confusing. Fulci was at top of his visual game at the time and the creepy Egyptian tombs with secret passages are loaded with venomous serpents, trap doors and deadly spiked booby traps look magnificent on screen. 

The Hackers returns to New York City where the professor is told that the sudden blindness is only temporary, which is great for him but things just get weirder for his young daughter who becomes possessed by the evil Egyptian amulet. Suzie's brother Tommy is played by child actor Giovanni Frezza, whom you will not be able to forget as that spooky creeper kid Bob from Fulci's The House by the Cemetery (1981),who is not quite so annoying here.

Manhattan Baby doesn't have the best reputation in the Fulci canon, coming off as a bit of Fulci knock-off of The Exorcist (1973) and Rosemary's Baby (1968) with a nod to Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), but Fulci and cinematographer Guigliemo Mancoro (Spasmo) manage to create a memorable movie with loads creepy images which make it a fun watch, with the oodles of Egyptology and ancient mysticism on display. Some of the dated optical effects such as glowing doors and the 80's laser lights do come off as very hokey, but there are some of the practical gore effects we've come to expect from this era of Fulci, just toned down quite a bit considering this is coming right on the heels of New York Ripper which was mean-spirited and sleazy. With Manhattan Baby the director was aiming for more atmosphere and mysticism over gore for whatever reason, while it is a mixed bag it is also a fascinating watch. 

There's a lot of weird and totally unexplained stuff happening, you don't walk away from this one with a lot of answers but the movie is suspenseful enough and loaded with enough cool imagery to keep you watching. I think Fulci gets hammered for poor storytelling and this head-scratcher, penned by longtime collaborator Dardano Sacchetti (Zombi, New York Ripper), certainly won't dissuade that line of criticism, but I always find his movies enthralling. If you have a love for Fulci's supernatural weirdies of the same era I think you will have a great time with this one, sure it is slim on gore, but it's thick with creepy atmosphere and schlocky supernatural fun, which is always awesome. 

Audio/Video: Manhattan Baby arrives on Blu-ray from Blue Underground restored in 2K from the original uncensored camera negative and the results are very pleasing all the way around. Properly framed in the original widescreen scope (2.35:1) aspect ratio the image looks more solid than ever before. It does have that usual 80s softness to it that the Italians loved a bunch but the new transfer looks pristine with a nice layer of film grain and an abundance of detail throughout. Yet another eye-popping platter from Blue Underground who continue to wow with their string of Eurocult titles on Blu-ray. Audio on the disc come by way of English DTS-HD MA 5.1, DTS-HD Mono, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX and Dolby Digital Mono. I prefer the original mono mix which sounds great uncompressed but I think the Fabio Frizzi score sounds terrific with the surround option, though there's not a whole lot of use of the surround otherwise. 

Onto the extras we have a smorgasbord of Fulci-centric awesomeness from Blue Underground whom carry over the eight-minute interview with screenwriter
Dardano Sacchetti and add loads of new stuff. The new stuff produced by David Gregory is quite good, beginning with the nearly hour-long Fulci & I interview with composer Fabio Frizzi who walks us through his whole career as a composer, from the early days on through to his wonderful collaborations with Fulci. There's also a nine-minute interview with star Cosimo Cinieri, plus an11-minutes with legendary make-up effects artist Maurizio Trani. My favorite of the new stuff is a 13-minute conversation with Stephen Thrower the author of "Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci" who offers candid and honest recounting of the movie within the context of Fulci's career working with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti and producer Fabrizio De Angelis, Thrower notes the odd abundance of optical special effects and the lack of the typical Fulci-gore in the movie. 

The disc also features a wonderful performance of Frizzi and his touring band playing the "Manhattan Baby Suite" live in-studio which is wonderful for fans of the composer - t sounds great and is fun to see performed. Additional extras on the disc include a theatrical trailer for the film and a poster and still gallery containing images from the movie in addition to various home video and soundtracks releases through the years. The three-disc set includes a DVD with the same main feature and bonus content in standard-def, in addition to a third disc containing the original motion picture soundtrack composed by Fabio Frizzi, a haunting and atmospheric score that contains both music composed for the film and some borrowed cues he composed for Fulci's The Beyond and City of the Living Dead. 

Away from the disc extras we have a 20-page booklet with writing on the movie from author Troy Howarth, plus cast and crew information, the CD track listing. The three-disc set comes housed in a clear Criterion-style keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork containing the alternate Eye of The evil Dead artwork.

Special Features: 
- Fulci & I - Interview with Composer Fabio Frizzi (An Hour-Long Career Overview Of the Soundtrack Collaborations of Fabio Frizzi & Lucio Fulci) (56 Mins) HD 
- For The Birds - Interview with Star Cosimo Cinieri (9 Mins) HD 
- 25 Years With Fulci - Interview with Make-Up Effects Artist Maurizio Trani (11 Mins) HD 
- Beyond The Living Dead - Interview with Co-Writer Dardano Sacchetti (8 Mins) 
- Stephen Thrower on MANHATTAN BABY - Interview with the author of "Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci" (13 Mins) HD 
- "Manhattan Baby Suite" - Live Studio Performance by Fabio Frizzi (9 Mins) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (3 Mins) HD 
- Poster & Still Gallery (52 Images) HD 
- BONUS 20 Page Collectible Booklet featuring new writing by author Troy Howarth
- BONUS CD - MANHATTAN BABY Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Fabio Frizzi (33 Mins) 

Manhattan Baby comes towards the end of a prolific period for Fulci, it does feel slightly lesser when compared to what came before but the movie is loaded with atmospheric visuals and weird Egyptian mysticism - making this a notable entry in the Fulci canon. The three-disc set from Blue Underground is nothing less than definitive with superior A/V and nearly two hours worth of video extras and very nice packaging, this is a real treat for Fulci fans. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

CARRIE (1976) Collector's Edition (Blu-ray Review)

CARRIE (1976) 
2-Disc Collector's Edition 
Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Duration: 98 Minutes 
Rating: R
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0, DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: Sissy Spacek, William Katt, Amy Irving, Betty Buckley, Edie McClurg, John Travolta, Nancy Allen, P.J. Soles, Piper Laurie, Priscilla Pointer

Synopsis: Based on the best-selling Stephen King novel, this "absolutely spellbinding horror movie" (Roger Ebert) has become a pervasive, pop-culture touchstone for anyone who's ever wanted to get even. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie deliver Oscar®-nominated* performances and John Travolta and Amy Irving are terrific in this ultimate revenge fantasy that has become one of the all-time great horror classics, and is now, finally, offered as a definitive, two-disc Collector's Edition Blu-ray!

At the center of the terror is Carrie (Spacek), a high school loner with no confidence, no friends... and no idea about the extent of her secret powers of telekinesis. But when her psychotic mother and sadistic classmates finally go too far, the once-shy teen becomes an unrestrained, vengeance-seeking powerhouse who, with the help of her "special gift," causes all hell to break loose in a famed cinematic frenzy of blood, fire and brimstone!

There is not a lot I can add to the choir of voices who have sung the praise of Brian De Palma's wonderful adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie (1976) through the years, a classic slice of horror that combines Brian De Palma's dazzling technical visual style with the harrowing highschool horror tale of Carrie White, a painfully shy and awkward highschool girl who is traumatized when her period happens for the first time in the gym shower room. What might have been just an embarrassing moment turns traumatic as her classmates taunt her mercilessly, it doesn't help that her mother is an unsympathetic religious nut, and her newly emerged womanhood coincides with newfound telekinetic power which culminates in a nightmare prom night scenario that is pure cinematic awesomeness. This is a movie that goes right into the crypt as a movie to be celebrated as not only a horror classic but one of the best of the Stephen King adaptations and one of De Palma's finest works. 

Audio/Video: Wowzers, the new 4K scan from Scream Factory far advances over the MGM Blu-ray from a few years ago. Colors are vibrant, the blacks are nice and deep, shadow detail is strong, and the skin tones are noticeably less ruddy and cooler looking, very rarely has a new HD scan of a movie been such an obvious improvement, but this is simply stunning work. The colors are rich and deep, with very nice saturation throughout. The image has a nice layer of film grain and along with that some improved clarity and fine detail. 

Audio options on the disc comes by way of your choice of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo or Surround 5.1 and both sounds wonderful. I still prefer the stereo track but the surround options does give a nice fullness to the fantastic Pino Donaggio score, a nice combination of lush arrangements and dramatic Bernard Herrmann Psycho-nods. Optional English subtitles are provided. 

Scream Factory improve over the MGM Blu-ray by carrying over all the extras from the special edition DVD which MGM did not do for the Blu-ray. These   include two 40-minute mini-docs Acting Carrie (43 Mins) and Visualizing Carrie  (41 Mins) with vintage interviews from Actors Sissy Spacek, Amy Irving, Betty Buckley, Nancy Allen, William Katt, Piper Laurie, Priscilla Pointer and P.J. Soles And Art Director Jack Fisk, screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen, editor Paul Hirsch and Director Brian De Palma, which are great. The original special edition was well-stacked back in the day and the material is still solid. 

Scream go above and beyond and tip the scales with over 2-hours of newly produced extras which are befitting the horror classic on its 40th anniversary. On disc one of the two-disc set we have the new 4K scan of the movie, plus we have the original theatrical trailer and franchise trailers for The Rage: Carrie 2, the 2002 Carrie TV movie plus the inferior 2013 remake. Onto disc two we have the aforementioned carry-overs from the special edition plus the new stuff.  'More Acting Carrie' is a nice update of the original 'Acting Carrie' with new interviews with Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley, William Katt, Piper Laurie, Edie McClurg and P.J. Soles (20 minutes). Plus there are new interviews with screenwriter Lawrence Cohen (29 Mins),  Paul Hirsch (25 Mins), director of photography Mario Tosi (15 Mins),  casting director Harriet B. Helberg (16 Mins), composer Pino Donaggio (24 Mins), a six-minute piece about "Carrie: The Musical", and a new episode of Sean Clark's Horror's Hallowed Grounds (11 Mins).  On top of that we have trailers and TV spots, an image gallery, plus a text essay 'Stephen King and The 'Evolution of Carrie'. As for packaging the 2-disc Blu-ray set arrives in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, featuring the original poster artwork and a new illustration from artist Nat Marsh, with a slipcover featuring the new artwork. 

Special Features

Disc One:
- NEW 4K Scan Of The Original Negative
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2Mins) 
- Carrie Franchise Trailer Gallery (4 Mins) 
Disc Two:
- NEW More Acting Carrie – featuring interviews with Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley, William Katt, Piper Laurie, Edie McClurg and P.J. Soles (20 minutes)
- NEW Writing Carrie – an interview with screenwriter Lawrence Cohen (29 Mins) HD
- NEW Cutting Carrie – an interview with editor Paul Hirsch (25 Mins) HD 
- NEW Shooting Carrie – an interview with director of photography Mario Tosi (15 Mins) HD 
- NEW Casting Carrie –an interview with casting director Harriet B. Helberg (16 Mins) HD 
- NEW Bucket of Blood – a new interview with composer Pino Donaggio (24 Mins) HD 
- NEW Horror's Hallowed Grounds – Revisiting The Film's Original Locations (11 Mins) HD 
- Acting Carrie – Interviews With Actors Sissy Spacek, Amy Irving, Betty Buckley, Nancy Allen, William Katt, Piper Laurie, Priscilla Pointer and P.J. Soles And Art Director Jack Fisk And Director Brian De Palma (43 Mins) 
- Visualizing Carrie – Interviews With Brian De Palma, Jack Fisk, Lawrence D. Cohen, Paul Hirsch (41 Mins) HD 
- A Look At "Carrie: The Musical" (6 MIns) 
- TV Spots (3 Mins) 
- Radio Spots (2 Mins) 
- Still Gallery – Rare Behind-The-Scenes Photos, Posters And Lobby Cards
- Stephen King And The Evolution Of Carrie Text Gallery (17 Mins) HD 

Wow, the Scream Factory 2-disc Blu-ray Collector's Edition is jam-packed with not just a definitive 4K transfer but hours of cool extras. I remember listening to an interview with Jeff and Cliff from Scream Factory on an episode of the now defunct Killer POV podcast, they were posed the question what title had slipped through their fingers or what movie they would love to have a crack at, Carrie was at the top of the list. You could tell at the time it was a movie they wanted so badly to get their hands on, and now they have, and they've done right by it. When you watch this version of the movie you can feel and see their passion for the movie right there on the screen. This is hands-down the definitive version of the movie, case closed, sell-off your old versions and update immediately.  



Label: Via Vision Entertainment

Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 404 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0, English DTS-HD 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen 
Directors: David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Mick Garris, 
Cast: Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Keith Gordon,  Brian Krause, Alice Krige, Fred Gwynne

The Stephen King Collection contains four of King’s most iconic works adapted to film in one boxed set for the first time and in brilliant HD.


Duration: 104 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Tom Skerritt, Brooke Adams

David Cronenberg's adaptation of Stephen King's novel The Dead Zone takes place in (where else?) Castle Rock, Maine, where a middle school teacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) is dating fellow teacher Sarah (Brooke Adams). After a night at the carnival he drops Sarah off at home, sweetly rebuffing her invitation to spend the night, saying "some things are worth waiting for". Driving home through a heavy downpour he is involved in an accident and lays in coma for five years, awaking to the news that Sarah has moved on and married since the accident. 

He recovers at the hospital under the care of  Dr. Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom), discovering that he now has the "gift" of second sight, foreseeing that a nurse's house is on fire and her daughter is in danger. The panicked nurse runs home and it turns out that Johnny's vision was accurate. Afterward, he becomes a sort of local celebrity weirdo, becoming a recluse to avoid the stares and inquiries of the curious in the small town who begin to fear him. 

Sheriff George Bannerman (Tom Skerritt) approaches Johnny hoping to use his gift to solve a series of grisly killings which have plagued the area for years. Initially he refuses but when the Castle Rock Killer strikes again he comes around, using his gift for good, though it feels more like a curse to Johnny. When he is taken to one of the crime scenes he senses that the killer is actually Deputy Frank Dodd (Nicholas Campbell, The Shape of Things to Come), while attempting to apprehend the murderous deputy Johnny is shot by the suspects mother and the deputy kills himself in a memorable death-by-scissors scene. After the incident Johnny moves to a neighboring city where he is hired by the wealthy Roger Stuart (Anthony Zerbe) to tutor his young son Chris (Simon Craig), who is abnormally shy but takes a liking to Johnny right away. While working for Stuart Johnny meets a charismatic but crooked political candidate named Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen). After shaking hands with the Stillson his second-sight kicks in and Johnny is overcome with an apocalyptic vision of the future, of the politician's rise in power, an ascent that will culminate in a nuclear apocalypse. Now Johnny must decide is he should take matters into his own hands and change the course of the future through whatever means necessary. This is a story that holds up very well, both as a Stephen King story and as an entrancing Cronenberg entry. 

The movie can be seen as making the argument that political assassination is a necessary course of action, which I found very intriguing. I've always found Cronenberg's movies to be a bit on the cold side in regard to warmth and emotion but this one is full of warmth, the chemistry between Walken and Brooke Adams is quite nice, as the former couple rekindle their relationship, fulfilling the promise of things worth waiting for. Christopher Walken is wonderful as usual, a quirky recluse with awkward hair who lives with his dad, wants to be left alone, but whose visions of the future force him to take action, it's great stuff. Martin Sheen (The Believers) is charismatic but ultimately evil senatorial candidate, and Herbert Lom (Mark of the Devil) is quite good as Dr. Sam Weizak. There is a wonderful scene of he and Johnny speaking about the morality of going back in time and killing Adolf Hitler, a conversation which sends Johnny on his assassination quest, that is so well handled by both actors. Lom is a powerhouse who many will remember as Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus from the Pink Panther Movies, others will recognize him from a string of low-budget horror and exploitation movies from the 70s, he's a welcome addition to the cast here. Brooke Adams (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) always exudes a small town charm with a sweet smile and a soft spot for Walken, whose path seems destined to cross with that of Johnny, she makes for a wonderful love interest. 

The movie is an odd one in the Cronenberg canon, a movie I do not feel is truly recognized as either a top-notch Cronenberg entry nor for being one of the best of the Stephen King adaptations. The Dead Zone is an enthralling watch, accentuated by a wonderful Michael Kamen score and a bittersweet final note. I do hope this Blu-ray earns the underrated flick some much deserved love from those who might have overlooked this David Cronenberg/Stephen King gem. 

The Dead Zone Special Features:

- Audio Commentary from screenplay writer Stephen Jones and Film Critic Kim Newman
- Memories from The Dead Zone (12 Mins) with 
- The Look of The Dead Zone (9 Mins) 
- Visions and Horror from The Dead Zone (10 Mins) 
- The Politics of The Dead Zone (12 Mins) 
- Original Trailer (2 Mins) HD 


Duration: 110 Minutes
Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Blossom

Christine (1983) has brought to mind the movie Burnt Offerings (1976), in that Dan Curtis classic an old house possesses and consumes an family, particularly the matriarch played by the wild-eyed Karen Black, the formerly decrepit house rebuilding itself one shingle at a time, at one point literally shedding it's skin in an act of rebirth. That's very much what we have with John Carpenter's Christine. Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon, Dressed to Kill) is a classic nerd complete with thick-rimmed glasses with a spot of tape on the bridge. One day while driving around with his best friend Dennis (John Stockwell) he spots the rusting carcass of a '58 Plymouth Fury for sale. The owner George LeBay (Roberts Blossom) sells the rusted deathtrap to Arnie for a whopping $250, Dennis tries to dissuade Arnie but the nerd is oddly drawn to the car. As a teen Arnie wants a sweet car of his own, but there's something more to it than just wanting a sweet ride, he's seduced by the car almost immediately. LeBay reveals the name of the car as Christine and tells the story of his departed brother's tragic devotion to her. Blossom is fantastic as the creepy coot,wearing a weird back brace, coming off as a semi-crazed lunatic. Christine certainly has no shortage of characters, from Harry Dean Stanton's Det. Rudy Junkins to Arnie's strict mother played by 70's TV actress Christine Belford. The most menacing character is the switchblade wielding Buddy Repperton who taunts the awkward Arnie along with his cohorts Moochie, Richie and Don. Repperton comes off as a more vicious version of Travolta's character from Brian De Palma's Carrie, Arnie begins to refer to this foursome as "the shitters", a term that old man LeBay used earlier in the film. 

When Arnie arrives home with the wreck his mother refuses to allow the car in the family driveway, forcing Arnie to drive the decrepit car to a do-it-yourself garage where we meet the cantankerous proprietor Will Darnell (Robert Prosky, Gremlins 2: The New Batch). Darnell is jowled curmudgeon who upon seeing the car pull into the garage tells Dennis "Kiddo, you sold him that piece of shit, you oughta be fuckin' ashamed of yourself" to which he responds that he tried to talk him out of it. Darnell responds "You shoulda' tried harder".
Only Arnie seems to see what inner beauty the wreck might hold and sets about restoring Christine to her original condition, salvaging parts from wrecking yard. As the restoration progresses Arnie is all-consumed by the car, running his hands over her body as if they were the dangerous curves of a woman. Seemingly overnight his confidence grows, his eyesight mysteriously improves and his style of dress changes. He begins to look the part of a 50s greaser, listening exclusively to 50's music and he begins to date a new girl at school, the very pretty Leigh (Alexandra Paul, Dragnet). 

Consumed by Christine Arnie distances himself from his former best friend Dennis and his relationship with the parents is strained, devolving into nightly spates of vulgarity. At one point he wraps his hands around his father's neck, this is not the Arnie we use to know, the once dweeby nerd has become something of an anti-social asshole to be honest. Concerned for his friend Dennis returns to the home of LeBay in search of answers and the creepy codger reveals that his brother Roland, his wife and even their young daughter all died in the car.

While at the drive-in with Leigh the car reveals it's jealousy, after an intense make-out session Leigh chokes on her cheeseburger, the doors lock preventing Arnie from helping her, the dashboard lights up with an unearthly glow,  it's great stuff. That same night Repperton and the band of teen thugs visit Darnell's garage and reek some destruction upon Christine, they completely ruin her. It's the I Spit on Your Grave (1978) of car destruction, she's utterly destroyed. Windows are busted, the body is smashed, the vinyl seats are slashed and adding insult to injury Moochie leaves a steaming turd on the dashboard. Arnie freaks out over the rape of Christine, he returns to that night to restore Christine's spoiled beauty. However, the vehicle reveals to him that it can restore itself , Arnie steps back from the car and says "okay, show me" to the cue of a brilliant John Carpenter synth score, the headlights flicker to life with some great lens flare and with a stroke of special effects magic the car restores itself to mint condition.

At this point we know 100% that something supernatural is happening, if we hadn't already, before this you could maybe assume the former tragedies were unfortunate coincidence, but from here on out there can be little doubt, Christine and Arnie are intrinsically joined by some malevolent force and neither will sit idly by and forget about the insult perpetrated upon her by Repperton and his crew.The first of the shitters to die is Moochie whom is chased down an alleyway, he takes refuge in the narrow relief of a loading dock too slim for Christine to traverse but the car forces its way in, wheels sending up plumes of white smoke, sparks flying as she squeezes through the passageway peeling back her side panels to crush the young man who shit upon her dashboard. 

Later Christine gives chase to Buddy, Richie and Don who she catches up to in sweet Buddy's '67 Camaro. The chase culminates at a service station with the teens fleeing the car for the safety of the garage just as the vengeful car spears the camaro, crushing it, pushing it inside the garage and crushing Richie, at the same time rupturing a fuel tank that sends the entire station up in a fireball incinerating Don. Outside Buddy witnesses the inferno as Christine emerges engulfed in flames. what ensues is a haunting scene as the fiery '58 Fury runs Buddy down leaving behind his burning corpse. The car returns to Darnell's garage where Will witnesses the charred car return to it's bay, grabbing his shotgun to investigate the car which claims yet another victim as the curmudgeon is crushed to death behind the steering wheel. With the shitters now dead the focus of the movie is now on Leigh and Dennis whom are no longer willing to stand by and let Christine consume their friend Arnie. The final showdown happens at Darnell's garage and ends with Arnie fatally impaled with a shard of glass, with his dying breath he gently caresses Christine's chrome grill one last time.

Christine is a classic slice of American horror from the mind of Stephen King and brought  to the screen by John Carpenter, who brings some serious visual muscle to the movie. The movie has a fantastic John Carpenter synth score plus some top notch rock tunes from Little Richard, Richie Valens, The Rolling Stones and George Thorogood and The Destroyers. 

Christine Special Features: 

- Audio Commentary with Filmmakers John Carpenter and Keith Gordon with Optional Commentary Subtitles 
- Deleted and Alternate Scenes (25 Mins)
- Ignition (12 Mins) HD 
- Fast and Furious (29 Mins) HD 
- Finish Line (7 Mins)

A classic piece of Americana and an effective slice of r-rated teen horror, Christine is an underrated John Carpenter entry, one that's taken for granted after years of cable channel reruns. I think maybe it gets lumped in with many of the more mediocre Stephen King adaptations we've seen throughout the years but one deserving of celebration. It'd been a few years since I last watched the film and it's surprising how well it's held up these past thirty years, one hell of a haunted car ride.


Duration: 89 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen 
Directors: Mick Garris, 
Cast: Brian Krause, Alice Krige   

When hunky teenager Charles Brady (Brian Krause) and his weirdo mom Mary (Alice Krige, Ghost story) arrive in smalltown Indiana the local girls begin to swoon right away, especially young Tanya (Mädchen Amick, Twin Peaks). What no one can know is that the mother/son are centuries old shape-shifters with origins dating back to ancient Egypt. Known as "sleepwalkers" they can change into werecats of sorts, who prey on young virgins and steal their life force, they're basically energy vampires. 

Directed by Mick Garris from a screenplay penned by Stephen King the movie is a odd early 90s take on vampire lore with our energy vampires showing a few quirky supernatural powers, aside from the lifeforce draining and shape-shifting abilities they can also make themselves invisible, something they call "dimming". The movie showcases and uneven mix of teen comedy and 80s type horror gimmicks, along with some unfortunate digital morphing special effects that look awful, though I do like the design of the werecat-type vamps. 

Krause and Krige make for a twisted mom and son combo, with an incestuous love between them, the teen must procure virgins to drain for his mother to live, Krige plays the character to the nth degree, like a drug addict jonesing for a fix and trying ti scratch the mother-son itch. Problem is that Charles is sort of falling for young Tanta which puts his mom on the edge. Also, local cop Andy Simps (Dan Martin) and pervy highschool teacher Mr. Fallows (Glenn Shadix) each suspect something is off about the new kid at school, though both meet with gruesome deaths, and the gore is pretty decent in this one, even if some of the make-ups look rubbery from time to time, I will always accept rubbery over digital, in fact the worst offender here are the awful digital morphing stuff, which have not aged well. 

Mick Garris called in favors from his Master of Horror friends with loads of director cameos including brief appearances from  John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Joe Dante (Gremlins) and even Stephen King himself. This was a staple of 90s cable when I was in high school and I always found myself watching it over and over again, though more out of familiarity that out of any sense of true joy, and it still feels that way, a perfectly watchable 90s horror entry, nothing great but another fun Stephen King adaptation. 

Sleepwalkers Special Features: 

- Trailer (2 Mins) HD 


Duration: 103 Minutes 
Audio:  English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen 
Directors: Mary Lambert 
Cast: Fred Gwynne, Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby

Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) moves his wife and kids to rural Maine when he is offered a new job as a doctor at the University of Maine. The new place is great, set near a serene lake, the grass is green, the air is fresh and the new neighbor is a welcoming sort of guy. The place does have a few drawbacks, for starters it is situated right next to a busy highway where truckers from the local factory hurl down at an obscene speed, and then there's the spooky old pet cemetery which is in the woods just behind the Creed house.

Elderly neighbor Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne, The Munsters) warns Louis about he dangers of the road and how it eats up pets at an alarming rate, which it does in quick order, beginning with the Creed's black cat named Church. Hoping to save Louis' daughter Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) the heartache of losing her pet old man Crandall takes Louis to a place beyond the pet cemetery, a old MicMac Indian burial ground, where he instructs Creed to bury the cat. 

The next day Church returns seemingly from the dead, the doc assumes that the feline was in fact not dead when they buried it, but when the cat begins to act abnormally aggressive he begins to believe in the power of the MicMac burial ground. Later when his young son Gage (Miko Hughes) is also struck by a truck on the highway he remembers the restorative powers of MicMac burial ground, against the wishes of Crandall he exhumes his son and re buries his body in the ancient burial ground with dire consequences. 

This is another one I watched on TV over and over again, unlike Sleepwalkers this one always managed to creep me out. Love the rural main setting, and the kindly old neighbor who plants the seeds of destruction which will undo both he and the Creed family. Miko Hughes is one of the creepiest kids, his turn as the reanimated son is the stuff of nightmares, when he dispatches Crandall with a scalpel, the scene of him crawling out from beneath a bed, laughing eerily, slicing through his Achilles, ooh, always makes me jump, this is good stuff.

I think Midkiff is a bit too restrained in his role as the dad, when he loses his son and weird shit turns deadly his pulse rate never seems to change, but he is serviceable. There are also a few other nice touches that keep this one creepy, a character named  Victor Pascow is killed on the road while jogging early on, Creed is haunted by his spectre from early on, warning Creed that the ground beyond the pet cemetery is "sour" and to avoid it, which he ignores once his son passes on. His wife also is haunted by visions of her deceased sister Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek) who passed on years earlier from spinal meningitis, the flashback scenes her are nightmarish, her deformed body unnaturally twisted, driven insane by her illness. 

I found the movie effecting and scary as a teen but now as a father I find it even more disturbing, the themes of loss and grief really hit home with me and linger. The lengths to which this grieving father will go to bring back the wholeness of his family despite what would seem to be are clear warning signs that no good can come of it it stunning, and the ending always has me shouting at the screen, don't do it!

Pet Sematary Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary by Director Mary Lambert
- Stephen King Territory (13 Mins) 
- The Characters (13 Mins) 
- Filming the Horror (10 Mins) 

Audio/Video: The Stephen King Collection arrives on Blu-ray from Australia's Via Vision Entertainment spread across four discs. Via Vision have previously issued both The Dead Zone and Sleepwalkers on Blu-ray as stand alone releases, with the former also being found as part of their 3-disc Cronenberg Collection release, in fact the Dead Zone disc on this set is lifted straight from the Cronenberg Collection With the same markings. Christine and Pet Sematary seem to be exclusive to this 4-disc collection. The set comes housed in a four-disc blue keepcase with a slipcover. The 1080p HD transfers are solid, the image of each is crisp and nicely detailed. Three of the movies have English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround audio tracks with optional English subtitles, while Sleepwalkers comes with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo track, which sounds just fine. 

All four films carry over all the extras from their North American counterparts which is fantastic, with the added benefit that The Dead Zone has yet to receive a North American Blu-ray release, and this one carries over all the extras from the special edition DVD. The 4-disc set is advertised as region B locked but I can confirm that this is playable on both of my Region A players without any issues whatsoever. Via Vision entertainment have put together a great collection of movie from the mind of Stephen King, while three of these have proper North American releases the fact that this includes The Dead Zone in HD makes this is a desirable set worth looking into. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

VAMP (1986) (Blu-ray Review)

VAMP (1986)
Label: Arrow Video
Region Code: A/B
Duration: 94 Minutes
Rating: Unrated 
Audio: English LPCM 1.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Richard Wenk
Cast:  Grace Jones, Robert Rusler, Dedee Pfeiffer, Sandy Baron

Synopsis:  Two fraternity pledges head to a seedy part of town to find some entertainment for their college friends but are faced with bloodthirsty vampires! Keith (Chris Makepeace, Meatballs) and AJ (Robert Rusler, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) want to make the right impression at college and so they devise a plan to get them into the best frat house on campus. They head to the After Dark Club where they want to find a stripper for a party their friends won’t forget, instead they find themselves among vampires led by Kinky Katrina (Grace Jones, A View to a Kill)!

Two fun-loving and very 80's fraternity pledges Keith (Chris Makepeace) and A.J. (Robert Rusler, A Nightmare on elm Street 2) are taking part in a ridiculously over-the-top Gothic-themed college fraternity initiation when things go awry in a very silly sort of way. The frat seems lame but what better way to meet girls and have a blast than in a frat house. I guess it beats living in a dorm.  To gain admittance into the hallowed halls of keggers A.J. promises to procure the frat strippers for an upcoming  party. The problem is that the campus is located quite a distance from New York City and our duo have no wheels. They hit up young college entrepreneur Duncan (Gedde Watanabe, Sixteen Candles) who will let them borrow a car but only if they pretend to be his friend for a week, which is such an 80's conceit, but I love it. The trio hit the road headed for the Big Apple and find themselves at a diner where they run into a strange gang of creeps led by an albino Billy Drago. After a brief confrontation the trio arrive at the After Dark Club where Vic (Sandy Baron) the doorman/MC makes sure they have the proper credential - cash and credit cards. Meeting his stringent criteria they are allowed in, once inside they meet a cocktail waitress named Amaretto (Dedee Pfeiffer) and then witness a very avant garde striptease by stripper Queen Katrina (Grace Jones), her dance is certainly not your usual titty jiggle. Katrina comes out decked in a bright-orange fright wig, chrome brassier, piercing blue eyes, her entire face painted ghostly white and her body is painted with intricate tribal markings. I can't say I was turned on but I was definitely weirded-out by it. After the stunning performance A.J. goes backstage to approach Katrina about stripping at the college kegger. This is when we discover that the strip club is a cover for a coven of vampires and Vic the MC is really a Vegas-style Renfield who loves to eat bugs. Katrina seduces and drinks the blood of A.J. leaving  Keith and his new found friend Amaretto to try escape the vampires or survive until dawn, whichever happens comes first.

Vamp is a really enjoyable 80's horror comedy. Keith and A.J. exemplify the wise cracking bosom buddies of the 80's, they have great chemistry particularly Robert Rusler as Keith, he's the 80s asshole you hate to love, the essence of every likable asshole from every eighties film ever. Dedee Pfeiffer as the cutesy Amaretto is an adequate love interest and Grace Jones as the exotic Queen Katrina is a frightening fanged sexual predator. I loved Sandy Baron as the creepy Renfield character but I think the film could have done without the character of Duncan as portrayed by Gedde Watanabe who displays none of the charm of his Long Duk Dong character from 80s coming of age classic Sixteen Candles (1984). Here he is pretty much relegated to third-wheel Asian sidekick in a comedy, his character simply didn't work for me. The humor is pure 80s goofy, bordering on satire. The film definitely screams 80's with loads of synthetic eighties music and over-bright 80's fashions. The atmosphere is enhanced by the some garish 80's neon lighting that swaths nearly every scene green and magenta. Not sure if they were going for Italian giallo feel or an EC Comics inspired visual here but it worked for me, a very striking look. I think the tone of the film is a totally uneven, teetering from camp to goofy horror-comedy from one scene to the next. It could have used a more even-handed approach but the flick is still a damn fun 80s watch. 

Audio/Video: Vamp arrives on Blu-ray from Arrow Video in the U.S. with a nice looking transfer framed in 1.85 widescreen. The HD image looks very good, nice and decently crisp with loads of neon color dripping off the screen, the movie is just drenched in green and magenta lighting and it looks great in HD. The image can appear somewhat soft at times though, but it shows a nice nice layer of film grain and an abundance of fine detail. The LPCM mono audio stays true to the original theatrical presentation, the dialogue, score and sound effect come through nicely balanced, optional English subtitles are included. . 

Special Features

- One of Those Nights (44 Mins) HD 
- Rehearsal Footage (7 Mins) 
- Dracula Bites the Big Apple (22 Mins) - A short film by Richard Wenk
- Blooper Reel (6 Mins) 
- TV Spots 
- Trailer 1 (1 Mins) 
- Trailer 2 (2 Mins) 
- Image Gallery (59 Images) 
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
- Collectible Booklet with new writing on the film by critic Cullen Gallagher

This is not the first time that Arrow have released this 80s bloodsucker, they released a region 2 locked DVD back in 2013 but not all the extras have been carried over for the new HD release. Missing from the Blu-ray are a few cool extras, including separate interviews with actress Dedee Pfeiffer (27 Mins), director Richard Wenk (17 Mins), producer Donald P. Borchers, plus an 8-minute piece with director Wenk looking through vintage Vamp memorabilia. The disc also does not carry over the Robert Rustler intro or audio commentary from the DVD, which was moderated by Calum Waddell from High Rising Productions, whom no longer produce extras for Arrow. These missing extras make it worth hanging onto that old Arrow DVD. 

With that content absent Arrow have included a few new extras, beginning with a new making of doc titled One of Those Nights, a fun watch at 44 minutes with new interviews from director Richard Wenk, director of photography Elliot David and actors Robert Rustler, Dedee Pfeiffer, Gedde Watanabe and Billy Drago. They all have fond memories of making the movie, including some lively memories of Grace Jones and her vibrator, a lot of the same ground from the DVD extras is covered throughout, we don't have a new interview with Donald P. Borchers, but they've added new insights from actors Gedde Watanabe and Billy Drago, which are awesome. Also on the Blu-ray seven-minutes of rehearsal footage, a fun reel of bloopers, Richard Wenk's short film Dracula Bites the Big Apple, TV spots and trailers, an image gallery plus a sleeve of reversible artwork and a collector's booklet. 

Vamp is a totally campy 80's bloodsucker movie, an uneven mix of goofy teen comedy and weirdo vampire movie, with some decent special effects. Not a great movie but a fun watch with a few ice cold beers and a bowl of buttery popcorn. The new Blu-ray from Arrow looks and sounds great, this is the version to own if you're a fan.