Sunday, November 18, 2018

SLEEPWALKERS (1992) (Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review)


Label: Scream Factory

Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 89 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Mick Garris, 
Cast: Brian Krause, Alice Krige, Mädchen Amick 

Synopsis: Brian Krause and Alice Krige star in this terrifying tale of modern-day vampires who move from small town to small town to prey on virtuous young women. Imperceptibly inhuman to everyone except for felines, these vicious shape-shifters have their eyes on a new victim: Mädchen Amick is Tanya, the sexually curious virgin who falls for Charles, the new boy in school (Krause). Mutating at will from golden boy to savage monster, Charles stalks Tanya to feed his seductive mother. As the tension mounts (and the casualties pile up), the town's tabbies gather for a final, chilling showdown with the monsters in their midst – and we all know it's not nice to hurt people's felines.

When hunky teenager Charles Brady (Brian Krause, Return to the Blue Lagoon) and his weirdo mom Mary (Alice Krige, Ghost story) arrive in smalltown Indiana the local girls begin to swoon right away at the sight of the handsome blonde new boy, 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, a race of mystical creatures known as "sleepwalkers" who have the ability change a sort of werecat, creatures who prey on young virgins and steal their life force, so  they're basically energy vampires. 

Directed by Mick Garris (The Shining TV mini-series) from an original screenplay penned by Stephen King - but not an actual novel - the movie is a odd early 90s take on vampire lore with our energy vampires showing a few quirky supernatural powers, aside from the life force 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 late-80s type horror gimmicks, all filtered through a Norman Rockwell nightmare lens, along with some unfortunate digital morphing special effects that do look awful, as do most digital FX from this era. 

Krause and Krige make for a twisted mother and son duo, with an incestuous love simmering between them, the teen son must procure virgins to drain of life for his mother to live. Krige plays the character to the hilt, she's like a drug addict jonesing for a life force fix and trying to scratch that special mother-son itch she has burning. Problem is that Charles is sort of falling for young Tanta which puts his mom on the edge, she's not happy that he's playing with his food. Not everyone in town is enamored with the newcomers though, local cop Andy Simps (Dan Martin, HBO's Dream On) and pervy high school teacher Mr. Fallows (Glenn Shadix, Beetlejuice) each suspect something is off about the new kid, though both meet with gruesome deaths. 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. But when the teacher has his hand ripped off or the cop is killed with a corncob to the spine, it's fun tongue-in-cheek stuff!  

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, also be on the lookout for a cameos from Ron Perlman (Hellboy) and Mark Hamill (Stars Wars), plus it was a hoot to see Ferris Bueller's Day Off parents, Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett reunited here as Tanya's parents! This was a staple of 90s cable when I was in high school and I always found myself watching it all the dang time, though more out of familiarity that out of any sense of true joy, and it still feels that way to me. Sleepwalkers is a perfectly watchable 90s horror entry, nothing too great, but a fun Stephen King/Mich Garris team-up.

Audio/Video: Sleepwalkers (1992) arrives on single-disc Collector's Edition Blu-ray presented in 1080p HD, framed in 1.85:1 widescreen. Grain is present and looks well-managed, colors are solid, and blacks are reasonable looking. There's a bit of inherent softnes to the image at times, but overall this is a solid presentation. I own the region-free release from Via Vision Entertainment, comparing the two I will say that this looks to be the same HD master, with the Scream Factory release being marginally brighter, but the framing and color grading looks identical to me. Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 or 5.1 with optional English subtitles. Dialogue is crisp and clean, no issues with hiss or distortion and the score from Nicholas Pike sounds good, but not as good as the classic guitar instrumental "Sleepwalk" by Santo and Johnny that plays during the opening scene, that is absolutely my favorite song of all time.

Where Scream Factory blows the Via Vision release away is with the extras, beginning with an audio commentary by director Mich Garris and actors Mädchen Amick and Brian Krause, they cover a lot of ground, and some of it is carried over to their interviews elsewhere. There's a new 19-min interview with Garris covering a lot of the same ground as the commentary, he gives a nicely candid view of the film, working with King and the cast speaking about certain limitations, and calling Clovis the cat “the De Niro of cat actors”, good stuff.  

Actors Mädchen Amick And Brian Krause team-up for a 15-min interview discussing their careers at that point, making the film, what it was like for Krause to have the make-up applied everyday, and how a parking ticker prevented him from attending the premiere of the film. 

The ethereal  Alice Krige speaks about landing the role, how she didn't often to get roles that allowed her to explore dark humor and how much she liked playing the part.

My favorite extras are usually from the FX guys,and this one is no different, Special Make-up Effects Creator Tony Gardner And Prosthetics Designer Mike Smithson, discussing how certain effects were achieved, sculpting the werecats, and we also get plenty of behind-the0scenes stuff, some of the stiff-looking werecat stuff is fun to see. Finishing up the disc is 7-minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, a trailer and TV spots for the film, and an image gallery.

The single-disc release comes with a 2-sided sleeve of artwork with the familiar original artwork plus a new illustration from artists Devon Whitehead that is truly eye-popping, and I love that Clovis the cat is front and center! There's also a slipcover with the new artwork plus the disc art is a nice close-up of Clovis. Sleepwalkers might not be the cream of the crop of 90's horror comedy but if you're a fan the film it looks solid in HD and the extras are purr-fectly fine. 

Special Features: 
- NEW Audio Commentary With Director Mick Garris And Actors Mädchen Amick And Brian Krause
- NEW Feline Trouble – An Interview With Director Mick Garris (19 min) HD 
- NEW When Charles Met Tanya – A Conversation With Actors Mädchen Amick And Brian Krause (15 min) HD
- NEW Family Values – An Interview With Actress Alice Krige (16 min) HD 
- NEW Feline Trouble: The FX Of Stephen King's Sleepwalkers – Interviews With Special Make-up Effects Creator Tony Gardner And Prosthetics Designer Mike Smithson (16 min) HD 
- Behind-The-Scenes Footage (7 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- TV Spots (2 min) 
- Still Gallery

To be honest, I never wanted nor thought that Sleepwalkers (1992) was a film that needed a collector's edition from Scream Factory, but watching this and pouring through the extras I think this is actually quite a nice release. The film itself has aged decently, it's still not a great film, but there was a reason I always watched it when it aired on cable, it's a fun horror junk-food watch. 


Friday, November 16, 2018




First up, the Scream Factory Collector's Edition of the Dark Castle Entertainment reimagining of the William Castle classic THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1999), starring Geoffrey Rush (Quills) in the Vincent Price role. Here we have an  eccentric millionaire who throws a deadly birthday bash for his devious wife (Famke Janssen, X-Men) at a former asylum for the criminally insane - that is said to be haunted. Rush is fantastic in the role, playing well against his duplicitous wife as played by Jannsen, the pair mixing together like battery acid and Evian water, a delicious cocktail of campy volatility! The film has aged pretty well, I don't remember loving it a whole lot when I saw in at the cinema, when I was in my jaded 20s, but watching this go around I was very pleased with it, the 90's camp hit all the right notes for me. The film features turns from Ali Larter (Final Destination), Taye Diggs, Peter Gallagher (American Beauty), Bridget Wilson, and Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) as the former (now ghostly) Dr. Richard Benjamin Vannacutt who performed bizarre and sadistic surgeries on the patients at the asylum before they turned on him and they all burned up in  raging inferno. The film has wonderful tongue-in-cheek humor, and special effects from the KNB Effects Group, who bring a mix of old school practical special effects along with some inferior digital stuff, but the mix leans heavy on the practical side of things. Scream Factory impress with a new 2K scan performed by Warner Bros., bringing out some solid detail in the image. They also pony-up for some cool new extras, we get all the vintage stuff from the previous DVD release and a new audio commentary with Director William Malone, plus new interviews with Malone, composer Don Davis, and visual effects supervisor Robert Skotak. The release comes with a 2-sided sleeve of artwork and a slipcover, Scream did good work with this one, would love to see them tackle Thir13en Ghosts (2001) next.

House on Haunted Hill Special Features: 

- NEW 2K scan from the original film elements
- NEW interview with director William Malone
- NEW interview with composer Don Davis
- NEW Interview with visual effects supervisor Robert Skotak
- Never-Before-Seen storyboards, concept art and behind-the-scenes photos courtesy of visual effects producer Paul Taglianetti
- Audio Commentary with director William Malone
- A Tale of Two Houses – vintage featurette
- Behind the Visual FX – vintage featurette
- Deleted Scenes
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spots
- Movie Stills and Poster Gallery

Also getting the Collector's Edition treatment is the new-Halloween classic TRICK 'R TREAT (2007), the horror anthology is spooky, fun and horrifying. It already had a very good Blu-ray release in my opinion, but Scream have manages to sweeten the treats with a new 2K scan that looks terrific with a new color grading that shines, plus we get loads of extras. They port over all the vintage extras from the original Blu-ray release, and even more new extras, they really went above and beyond for what I would say was a new classic. Few film before or after are so deeply steeped in the lore of Halloween and drenched in atmosphere, perfectly capturing the vibe of the season with it's tales of werewolves, vampires, child murder, and proper Halloween decoration etiquette. The Scream Factory release offers up a 2-sided sleeve of artwork with a new and gorgeous illustration from artists Devon Whitehead, plus a slipcover. Still waiting on a sequel to this one, but in the meantime I would love for Scream Factory to get their hands on the other Trick Or Treat (1986), a fun rock n' roll nightmare long overdue for a proper US Blu-ray release.  

Trick 'R Treat Special Features: 

- NEW 2K Scan of the original film elements supervised and approved by director Michael Dougherty
- NEW Tales of Folklore & Fright: Creating Trick ‘r Treat – including interviews with writer/director Michael Dougherty, conceptual artist Breehn Burns, and storyboard artist Simeon Wilkins.
- NEW Tales of Mischief & Mayhem: Filming Trick ‘r Treat – in-depth interview with Michael Dougherty on the making of the film
- NEW Sounds of Shock & Superstition: Scoring Trick ‘r Treat – including interviews with Michael Dougherty and composer Douglas Pipes
- NEW Tales of Dread and Despair: Releasing Trick ‘r Treat – a look at the release and fandom with Michael Dougherty and writer Rob Galluzzo
- Season’s Greetings – NEW 2K scan of the original 16mm elements – a short film by Michael Dougherty with optional commentary by Dougherty
- NEW Storyboard and Conceptual Artwork Gallery
- NEW Behind the Scenes Still Gallery
- NEW Monster Mash – a story from the TRICK ‘R TREAT graphic novel
- NEW Shorts
- Audio Commentary with director Michael Dougherty
- Trick ‘R Treat: The Lore and Legends of Halloween featurette
- Deleted and Alternate Scenes with optional commentary by director Michael Dougherty
- School Bus FX Comparison
- Theatrical Trailer

Last up for this edition of The Epitaph is the 90's thriller SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (1982), finally getting a long overdue Blu-ray with some solid extras. This tale of roommate obsession and identity approrpriation is up there with Misery and Silence of the Lambs as one of the best thriller from that decade. Bridget Fonda (Lake Placid) and Jennifer Jason Lee (Breakfast Club) are dynamite as the roomies who hit it off before one becomes strangely obsessed with the other, a film with a surprising amount of violence and amped-up sexiness, it really pushes that R-rating! The film was shot by Suspiria cinematographer Luciano Tovoli and looks wonderful in HD, surprisingly this is not advertised as a new 2K scan but the image is bold and crisp. This is also not branded as a "Collector's Edition" which I can only assume is because neither actress would partake of the extras, but we do get some substantial extras, this includes a new audio commentary from the director, editor and producer plus some lengthy interview with Schroeder, screenwriter Don Roos (Happy Endings) and actors Peter Friedman (The Seventh Sign) and Steven Weber (TVs Wings). Unfortunately no interview with neither of the leading ladies of superstar character actor Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog's Day) who shows up her as a pervy boss. Fans of top-notch thriller will need this in their collection, a film that I thinks has been sort of undervalued in the years since it hit the cinema. 

Single White Female Special Features:

- NEW Audio Commentary with Director Barbet Schroeder, Editor Lee Percy, and Associate Producer Susan Hoffman
- NEW Interview With Director Barbet Schroeder
- NEW Interview With Actor Peter Friedman
- NEW Interview With Actor Steven Weber
- NEW Interview With Screenwriter Don Roos
- Theatrical Trailer

Thursday, November 15, 2018

ABSURD (1981) (Severin Films Blu-ray Review)

ABSURD (1981)
Label: Severin Films
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 94 Minutes
Region Code: All regions
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Joe D'Amato
Cast: George Eastman, Annie Belle, Charles Borromel, Edmund Purdon

Following the success of Anthropophagous (1980) director Joe D'Amato and writer/star George Eastman re-teamed for this semi-sequel, a spiritual sequel in so much that it again stars Eastman as a hulking, mute maniac on a kill-spree, also named Nikos - but this time set in America. At the start of the film we see Nikos escaping from what looks to be an asylum of some sort, pursued by Vatican priest (Edmund Purdon, Pieces), while fleeing the maniac manages to disembowel himself on the sharp tips of a wrought iron gate he climbing over, but still manages to find his way to a nearby home of before collapsing on their doorstep with his guts hanging out, sort of beginning this film the same way Anthropophagous ended. He's taken to a local hospital where doctor's stitch him up in surgery, they're unaware of what a monster he is, and are a bit surprised how quickly he heals during the surgery. 

The priest eventually shows up and explains to the surgeons and the cops that Nikos was the subject of a bizarre church-sanctioned experiment that gave him increased healing abilities, sort of like Wolverine, but the experiments drove the man murderously insane, now driven to kill. The patient makes a speedy recovery and takes a surgical drill to the skull of an unfortunate nurse, the first of two kills look to owe a big debt to the drill-press scene from Lucio Fulci's City of The Living Dead (1990). He escapes the hospital and his first stop is at a nearby slaughterhouse, where he band saws some poor janitor's skull in half - it's a very well executed gore gag! 

Eventually the unstoppable psycho makes his way back to the home where he spilled his guts at earlier, inside two children have been left alone with a babysitter and a nurse while their parents are off watching a Pittsburgh Steelers game at the neighbors house. The kids include a bed-ridden convalescing teen and her adolescent kid brother, who might be the most annoying kid in a horror movie since "Bob" from Fulci's The House By The Cemetery (1981).

The movie borrows wholesale elements from John Carpenters Halloween (1978) with the mute Eastman standing in for Michael Myers, while Purdom's obsessed priest is clearly the Loomis of the story. Additionally you have a babysitter and her ward threatened by the looming danger of an escaped patient, with the kid worrying about a bogeyman he's seen around the house. Also touching on elements of Halloween II, which to be fair arrived in cinemas about the same time, we have a bed-ridden teen who must rise to the challenge of defeating an unstoppable evil presence, who also manages to blind her attacker in the process, it's a strange coincidence.

This time around Eastman's maniac doesn't have the same receding hairline and poor skin condition as his counterpart from Anthropophagous, he's looking rather handsomely rugged here with a fine looking beard, and a bloodstained buttoned-up shirt tucked into his blue jeans, sporting white tennis shoes. It seemed like a strange wardrobe choice for an unstoppable killing machine, but okay, I'll go with it. 

In my opinion Absurd is a better made film than it's predecessor with brisk-by-comparison pacing that doesn't slow down the gore-soaked fun. The kills are bloody but are not as shocking as the highlights of Anthropophagous, but we get some good stuff by way of disemboweling, pick axe, band saw, drill, someone roasted in an oven,  and even an old school battle axe comes into play, not too shabby at all.

The inclusion of Edmund Purdom as the Loomis-like character is fun but also a bit wasted, he doesn't do all that much except pad out the run time, but I'll take some Purdom where I can get him. George Eastman again doesn't have a whole lot to do here as the mindless, murdering maniac, other than kill, but everything happening around him just seems more interesting to me, and he seems more into the character here as well, with a tiny bit more expression in his face at least.

Other fun stuff to watch for is how this is supposed to be set in America, so there's a lot of football on TV, and at the party the parents attend they're all scarfing down plates of pasta, it's rediculous, also trope-y is how absurd-ly ineffectual the cops are here, completely useless. Absurd is a fun enough 80's slasher, it's not up there with the American slasher classics from the same era but D'Amato at least gives us a decent Italian entry. 

Audio/Video: Absurd (1981) arrives on Blu-ray from Severin Films with a brand new 2K scan from the original camera negative, presented in 1080p HD and framed in 1.85:1 widescreen. The source looks good, print damage is kept to a minimum, colors are solid and nicely saturated, and the blacks are decently deep. There are two version of the film included here, we get the 89-min Italian version and the longer running 94-min English version, both cuts looks identical as far as image quality to my eyes, with the shorter version containing all the gore but removing a bunch of scenes of people watching football and scarfing down spaghetti.   

Audio comes by way of English (for the longer version) and Italian (for the shorter Italian version) via DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono, both are clean and well preserved, dialogue is never difficult to make out, and the score from Carlo Maria Cordio (Witchery) is pretty fantastic, if you're a fan of it you will pleased that Severin have included a soundtrack CD with this release! 

Extras kick-off with the half-hour 'The Return of the Grim Reaper' an interview with actor/writer/co-producer Luigi Montefiore a.k.a George Eastemn again speaking about his work with D'Amato, talking of how they met on the set of a western, how impressed he was at the lengths to which D'Amato would go as a cameraman to get a shot, even dangerously strapping himself to a horse carriage, and eventually writing scripts for and acting for him when he turned to directing films. He discusses working with Edmund Purdon and Annie Belle, shooting certain scenes and how some of the effects were achieved, and how he hated getting head-casts done. He also goes into how Michele Soavi (Cemetery Man) got involved in the production, noting that he became quite a good director himself, with Eastman even writing the script for Soavi's Stage Fright (1987). Interestingly he also goes a little bit into Quentin Tarantino speaking highly of D'Amato and Sergio Martino, how he thinks that hype was hurtful in a way to those directors in some way. 

Director Michele Soavi who appeared as an uncredited biker in the film shows up for an appreciation of D'Amato, describing him as genius, and speaking of how he produced Stage Fright, this looks to be ported over from the 88 Films Blu-ray from few years ago. The last of the interview extras is a vintage interview with the late director, sitting behind a desk impresario style and speaking about his filmography, including the hardcore porn stuff. there's a trailer for the film. 

The 2-disc Blu-ray/CD release comes housed in a black Blu-ray keepcase with a 2-sided sleeve of artwork, the A-side looks to be a new illustration with the reverse being an original movie Spanish or Italian poster for the film. The Blu-ray disc sports the new illustration, the artwork for the CD disc is an illustration I'm not familiar with, the image looking more like something from City of The Living Dead than Absurd. 


Special Features:
- Rosso Sangue - Alternate Italian cut (with optional English subtitles)(88 min)
- The Return of the Grim Reaper- Interview with Actor / Writer / Co-Producer Luigi Montefiore (31 min)
- D'Amato on Video- Archive Interview with Director Aristide Massaccesi (17 min)
- A Biker (Uncredited)- Interview with Filmmaker/Extra Michele Soavi (17 min)
- Trailer (3 min) 

In my opinion Absurd (1981) is a better made and more enjoyable film than Anthropohagus (1980), it's still bat-shit insane and the story is your basic slasher 101 rip-off , but it more professionally shot and executed. The gore is not as shocking this time around, but it's hard to top eating your own intestines and ripping babies from wombs! The Severin Blu-ray looks really solid, and the extras are great, making it a great companion piece to their Anthropophagous release. For 80's slasher nuts and Italian gore-fans out there this is a no-brainer, this slice of Italian exploitation is now finally available uncut and looking the best it ever has, recommended.