Thursday, July 27, 2017

RE-ANIMATOR (1985) (2-Disc Limited Edition Blu-ray Review)

RE-ANIMATOR (1985) 
2-DISC LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY

Label: Arrow Video
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 86 Minutes/105 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono, Stereo and 5.1 Surround Audio with Optional English Subtitles Options 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale

Synopsis: One of the most wildly popular horror movies of all-time, Stuart Gordon’s enduring splatter-comedy classic Re-Animator returns to Blu-ray in a stunning restoration packed with special features! When medical student Dean Cain advertises for a roommate, he soon finds one in the form of Dr. Herbert West. Initially a little eccentric, it some becomes clear that West entertains some seriously outlandish theories – specifically, the possibility of re-animating the dead. It’s not long before Dean finds himself under West’s influence, and embroiled in a series of ghoulish experiments which threaten to go wildly out of control… Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s classic terror tale ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’ and featuring a standout performance from Jeffrey Combs as the deliciously deranged West, Re-Animator remains the ground-zero of ’80s splatter mayhem and one of the genre’s finest hours.

Very few movies have scarred me the way Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator (1985) did with it's dark alchemy of horror, comedy and weird perversion, it's just one of those films that you will never forget. The movie opens with a great pre-credit sequence by which we are introduced to Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs, From Beyond) a medical student at the Zurich University Institute of Medicine in Switzerland where he's been studying with his mentor, Dr. Hans Gruber (Al Berry, Halloween III) whom died suddenly from reasons unknown and we are thrown directly into the fray as West injects Gruber with a strange glowing-green liquid with the apparent ability to re-animates the dead man, but not without some truly grotesque consequences, which are witnessed by staff and security of the institute who break into the lab after hearing an awful commotion. It's great stuff and it's only a small taste of what's to come, there's plenty more exquisite 80's gore and madcap horror on the way!

Somehow West is not prosecuted for crimes against natural law following the events in Zurich and ends up in back in the U.S. in New England at Miskatonic University where he studies under Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale, Rituals). The student-professor relationship is strained to say the least, made worse when West accuses Hill of poaching Dr. Gruber's theories of brain death very directly in front of the class. Shortly after West is introduced to promising medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott, Bad Dreams) and the two become housemates even though Cain's girlfriend (and daughter of the Dean) Megan (Barbara Crampton, From Beyond), is creeped out by the deeply weird West, and she just might be onto something for it's not long before before Dan awakens to the unearthly shrieking of his cat. Following the unnatural cat-shrieking to West's basement laboratory he finds the dismembered feline resurrected and ravenous. Combs sells the rather corny stuffed feline prop as a menacing clawed demon-cat, it's great schlocky stuff. While Dan's unnerved by the ghastly affair West wins him over with the miraculous glowing-green re-agent fluid and Cain joins in on West's mad quest for life after death leading to more death and tragedy.. 

Jeffrey Combs' turn as the mad-scientist is a performance for the ages and his nemesis Dr. Hill is just as fantastic. Hill manages to turn the school's Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson, Robot Jox), against West and Cain using an under explained form of mind-control, he loathes West and is a total perv for Dan's girl Megan. In the aftermath West and Cain are barred from the med-school but that doesn't stop them from breaking into the morgue and administering re-agent on cadavers which not so unexpectedly goes horribly wrong resulting in the death of the Dean. West doesn't skip a beat and takes advantage of the freshest corpse in the room, injecting the Dean with the re-agent who becomes a brainless zombie and is committed to the psychiatric ward under the watch of Dr. Hill who connects the bizarre incident to West's research into brain-death. When confronted by Hill in his laboratory West sweetly decapitates the professor with a shovel, still incapable of curbing his macabre curiosity he uses his re-agent to resuscitate his disembodied head, causing even more problems. 

Turns out that Hill can telepathically control his headless body which knocks the distracted West unconscious and stealing the re-agent and then kidnapping Megan to perform a bizarre act of disembodied cunnilingus - one of horror cinema's most-tasteless and glorious moments. We get loads of gore effects, a gorgeous face-peel, a brain exposed after having the skull removed, oodles of intestines, a decapitated head and a dismembered cat that gets it's brains smashed against the wall, those seeking the grotesque shall not be disappointed by Re-Animator - it holds up quite nicely.


This film is a true masterwork of horror cinema loaded with macabre atmosphere, blood-soaked gore and delicious black humor - it really stands the test of time and if you are not familiar with the works of Stuart Gordon do yourself a favor and remedy that right quick, the man is a twisted genius of horror cinema, and a somewhat under appreciated one at that. 



Audio/Video: Re-Animator arrives on 2-disc Blu-ray from Arrow Video with a brand new 4K restorations of both the unrated (86 min) and integral (105 min) versions of the film in 1080p HD widescreen (1.78:1), each presented on it's own Blu-ray disc. The image looks great, to my eyes it surpasses the 4K restoration from the UK second sight release, the grain look more natural and tighter, fine details pop just a bit more, blacks are deep and solid and the colors are nicely vibrant - the green really does pop. Onto the audio we have English DTS-HD MA Mono, Stereo and 5.1 Surround Audio options with optional English subtitle options for the unrated cut, the integral version includes only DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1. All options are clean, crisp and well-balanced.   

Onto the extras we have a ton, Arrow carry-over all the extras from the OOP US release from Lionsgate as well as the UK release from second Sight Films, we get the fantastic full-length making of doc Re-Animator Resurrectus, the two audio commentaries, plus the interviews with Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna, Dennis Paoli, Richard Band and Timothy Tempone, the extended and deleted scenes, trailer, tv spots and image gallery. 

Arrow also offer up some brand new extras, beginning with a nice interview with Barbara Crampton from her 2015 FrightFest appearance in London with author Alan Jones. She discusses her entire career, from growing up in the carnival to appearing on a soap opera, on through to her films with Stuart Gordon and beyond, it's a solid interview and a nice career retrospective, and may I just say the Crampton is truly ageless. We also get a new audio commentary with Stuart Gordon, but this commentary is with cast members from the Re-Animator: The Musical, and speaks at length about adapting the film for the musical, which I've never seen so I skipped it just a few minutes in. There's also a new interview with Gordon about his continuing career as a theater director, plus an interview with Re-Animator the Musical lyricist Mark Nutter on adapting the cult classic for musical theater, which I skipped for the same reasons I did the new commentary. There's also a multi-angle storyboard comparison which allows you to toggle back and forth between the film and the storyboards for three select sequences. 

Onto disc two, the extras joining the "integral" cut of the film begin with the Nucleus Films produced A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema (54 min), a brand new featurette looking at the numerous cinematic incarnations of writer H.P. Lovecraft’s work with Chris Lackey of the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, he walks us through the many Lovecraft adaptations beginning with Roger Corman's The Haunted Palace onto 60s/70s stuff Die Monster Die, The Crimson Cult, The Dunwich Horror, a few episodes of TV anthology Night Gallery, his influence on horror classic Alien, Evil Dead and John Carpenter's The Thing, and more skippable stuff like The Curse, The Unnamable, and the SOV obscurity Dark Heritage, it's a great introduction to Lovecraftian cinema.

There's also a six-part reading of the original H.P. Lovecraft source material by Jeffrey Combs, who played Herbert West in the film. This comes from the Doug Bradley's Spinechillers audiobook/CD series - it's a great inclusion on this set. 

For review we were only sent the pre-release "check discs" from Arrow, which does not contain artwork, or packaging extras, but retail version feature digipak packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Justin Erickson, art cards, a Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by writer Michael Gingold and the original 1991 comic book adaptation, reprinted in its entirety in Blu-ray booklet sized form.

Special Features:
Disc 1  

- Unrated Version (86 min) HD
- Audio commentary with director Stuart Gordon
- Audio commentary with producer Brian Yuzna, actors Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott, and Robert Sampson
- NEW! Audio Commentary with Stuart Gordon, Graham Skipper and Jesse Merlin 
- Re-Animator Resurrectus – documentary on the making of the film, featuring extensive interviews with cast and crew (96 min) 
- Interview with director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna (49 min) 
- Interview with writer Dennis Paoli (11 min) 
- Interview with composer Richard Band (15 min) 
- Music Discussion with composer Richard Band (17 min) HD 
- Interview with former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone (5 min) 
- NEW! Barbara Crampton In Conversation – the Re-Animator star sits down with journalist Alan Jones for this career-spanning discussion (36 min)HD 
- NEW! The Catastrophe of Success - Director Stuart Gordon discusses his  early theater roots and continued commitment to the stage (13 min) HD  
- NEW! Theater of Blood: Re-Animator the Musical lyricist Mark Nutter on adapting the cult classic for musical theater (13 min) HD 
- Deleted (3 min) HD
- Extended Scenes (23 min) HD 
- Multi-Angle Storyboards (5 min) HD 
- Trailer (2 min) HD 
- TV Spots (3 min) 
- Still Gallery (42 images) HD 
- Easter Egg: 1995 Q/A with Barbara Crampton (17 min) 
Disc 2 
- Integral Version (105 min) HD
- NEW! A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema – brand new featurette looking at the many various cinematic incarnations of writer H.P. Lovecraft’s work (54 min) HD 
- NEW! Doug Bradley's Spinechillers: Herbert West: Reanimator (39 min) HD 

I think it's safe to say that Arrow Video have gone and put the final nail in the coffin on definitive editions of Re-Animator (1985), this quite literally has everything you can and would want from an HD presentation of this beloved 80s horror classic, by several measures this is the best looking version of the film in my opinion. 5/5 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) (Blu-ray Review)

KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) 
Label: Warner Bros.
Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13 
Duration: 118 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.39:1) 
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly

Synopsis: This compelling, original adventure tells the story of a diverse team of scientists, soldiers and adventurers uniting to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific, as dangerous as it is beautiful. Cut off from everything they know, the team ventures into the domain of the mighty Kong, igniting the ultimate battle between man and nature. As their mission of discovery becomes one of survival, they must fight to escape a primal Eden in which humanity does not belong.

I was a fan of Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005), it was epic, adventurous and I loved the era it was set in - it was a love letter to the original King Kong, but it was a bit pacey at times, it was a slow-burn and it took a long damn time to even get to Skull Island and the titular Kong, and some of the special effects work was wonky, for example, those brontosaurus type creatures were a little rubbery looking, but I still love the movie a bunch. Now here comes Kong: Skull Island - a new take on the myth of Kong and set in a new era, the Vietnam era, and with it they bring in more than a tinge of cool Apocalypse Now influence on aesthetic and tone, the gritty 70s is a great era for this one. 

The film opens in '44 with an American fighter pilot going down in combat along with his Japanese counterpart - both are downed and stranded on the island, and both seem to want to continue the fight on land that began in the air - chasing after each other on the beach and deep into the jungle, intent on killing one another until they are interrupted by the titular Kong! 

Forward to '73 we have a Monarch government agent named Bill Randa (John Goodman, The Big Lebowski) who hires a former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, Avengers: Age of Ultron) to guide him and his expedition team of scientist to a place called Skull Island, a mysterious island located somewhere in the South Pacific. Transporting the expedition to the island is a Vietnam War helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel Jackson, Pulp Fiction), they're also joined by war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) who has served time "in the shit".

They arrive on the island with no small amount of bad weather, the island is hidden away by a seemingly impenetrable storm front, and begin to immediately place explosive charges around the island to assist in mapping the subterranean composition, going on a "hollow earth" theory favored by Randa and his team. No sooner have they started dropping explosives and fucking the pristine island up than they are besieged by a 100 foot tall ape who destroys/kills most of the team, smashing the helicopters like toys, scattering the survivors into two separate groups, everyone is in shock - no one's seen this sort of thing before. 

The groups begin traversing the island and the team encounters the island's indigenous people who are known as the Iwi, they also encounter the WWII soldier from the start of the film, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly, Boogie Night)who has become an indoctrinated member of the tribe, and we learn slowly what became of his Japanese counterpart. While most of the group hope to get off the island by travelling to a predetermined drop-off point Colonel Packard becomes obsessed with destroying this new enemy, having failed in Vietnam he seems sort of cracked, and won't leave the island until Kong is destroyed, and he doesn't seem to care if it ends up killing everyone.


The island is a gorgeous place, green, lush and terrifying, and wouldn't you know it, the damn place is lousy with killer creatures, the monstrous ape seems to be the least of their worries. The group find themselves assaulted by a bamboo-stalking giant spider, encounter a gargantuan water buffalo, a nightmarishly huge octopus, and a race of subterranean creatures called "Skull Crawlers", as they are named by Marlow. These are the main threat found on the island, Kong is a sort of gatekeeper that maintains the balance on the island, but Col. Packard's vengeful quest against the massive ape threatens that equilibrium of the island, and the skull crawlers which have been mostly kept below ground begin emerging at an alarming pace. 

The creature action here is awesomely entertaining, fearsome and outrageously large creatures face off against the humans and with Kong, the visual spectacle is absolutely fun stuff and the digital artistry is phenomenal. I do love most of the creature designs, I think Kong looks awesome, they don't go out of there way to over-emote Kong the way Jackson's King Kong did, but he has a great range of rages. The giant octopus and spider are great, but the main baddies the "skull crawlers" didn't quite do a lot for me, much how I didn't care for the MUTO in the recent Godzilla (2015) movie, but they're decent enough that I didn't hate the movie for them, in fact I loved it. 


I think adding the Vietnam war-theme to the movie kept it fresh, we've seen quite a few incarnations of King Kong since the original, and I love the Apocalypse Now aesthetic, the shots of the helicopter squadron in action, they're mirrored aviator glasses adding a certain coolness to the proceedings, reflecting certain scenes of action and horror. The PG-13 movie is never frightening, this is a straight-up action-creature feature, there are no frights, but there is some epic monster action, and loads of tiny human being picked-off by bizarre threats, including some sort of saw-billed birds, and of course by Kong. 


Blu-ray Special Features: 
- Director’s Commentary
- Creating a King: Realizing an Icon (12 min) HD
- Creating a King: Summoning a God (13 min) HD
- Monarch Files 2.0 (8 min) HD 

- On Location: Vietnam (6 min) HD
- Tom Hiddleston: The Intrepid Traveler (7 min) HD
- Through the Lens: Brie Larson’s Photography (2 min) HD
- Deleted Scenes (4 min) HD 


This movie gave me pretty damn near everything I wanted to see from a new Kong flick, it got to the action quickly, it offered a plethora of one-dimensional characters who do what they gotta do, and there's plenty of creature action, so good on director Jordan Vogt-Roberts for bringing Kong to the big screen with the action I craved and some cool visuals. Sure, it's loaded with the pre-requisite amount of Blockbuster bullshit, but as mindless, stuff your mouth with popcorn summer blockbuster goes this was a fun one, I didn't even mind that I cannot buy Hiddleston as a man-of-action, he's just not that guy, but he has charisma to spare. The movie is loaded with tasty classic 70's rock, including "Down On The Street" by Iggy and the Stooges, a seriously badass song for a seriously badass monster flick!



Disclaimer: This release was sent to us courtesy of Warner Bros. for review on the site. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996) 3-Disc Limited Edition (Blu-ray Review)

THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996) 
3-Disc Limited Edition

Label: Blue Underground

Release Date: July 25th 2017 
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 119 Minutes
Audio: English and Italian Dolby Digital and DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0, Surround 5.1, Surround 7.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leonardi, Luigi Diberti, Paolo Bonacelli

Synopsis: When beautiful police detective Anna Manni follows the bloody trail of a sophisticated serial murderer/rapist through the streets of Italy, the young woman falls victim to the bizarre “Stendhal Syndrome” – a hallucinatory phenomenon which causes her to lose her mind and memory in the presence of powerful works of art. Trapped in this twilight realm, Anna plunges deeper and deeper into sexual psychosis, until she comes to know the killer’s madness more intimately than she ever imagined.
In Dario Argento's arguably last really good film we have his daughter Asia Argento (Land of the Dead) portraying an Italian policewoman, Detective Anna Manni, travelling to Florence, Italy on the trail of a serial killer/rapist. An anonymous tip sends her to a fine art gallery on his trail, but while there she is overcome by a condition known as stendhal syndrome, a real condition wherein she is completely overwhelmed by the surrounding works of art, her head begins to spin, she experiences auditory hallucinations, and then begins to hallucinate that she is inside one of the paintings. In a grand dream like sequence she is plunged beneath the surface of the ocean where she encounters a nightmare-fuel vision of a fish with a very human looking face, it's unsettling, bizarrely she begins to make out with it and wakes up from her trance-state confused and a bit lost. A man named  Alfredo (Thomas Kretschmann, Peter Jackson's King Kong) attempts to help her, but she heads back to her hotel alone, still disoriented. 

It turns out that the man she encountered at the gallery is the very serial killer/rapist she is looking for, back at the hotel she again begins to experience the disorienting effects of the syndrome, when she is attacked by Alfredo, who forces her onto a bed and stuffs a gun into her mouth, perversely slicing open her lip with a razor blade before brutally raping her, all the while trying to keep her conscious as she begins to pass out. eventually she passes out and awakens in a car parked on the street where Alfredo is raping another woman right in front of Anna, before shooting her in the face. Anna is able to escape but is scarred by the traumatic experience. In the aftermath she cuts her hair shorter, her personality begins to change, and she becomes obsessed with capturing the serial killer, and visits a therapist to help her sort through the traumatic experience. 

Meanwhile Alfredo is still on the loose, he continues to mind-fuck Anna in a perverse game cat and mouse, eventually kidnapping her and taking her to his graffiti covered sewer-lair where he rapes her again. Left alone for hours tied to a grungy mattress she again experiences the effects of the syndrome, the graffiti images around her come alive, including flying syringes and a strange creature with a large cock, which is glimpsed only briefly, but it's very strange indeed. Again, Anna is able to escape but chooses not run, instead she becomes the aggressor leading to what in any other film would be a logical end, but Argento keeps this psycho-sexual thriller rolling along, exploiting the devastating effects of Anna's damaged psyche for some full-on Psycho fun. 

Asia Argento is great in the triple-threat performance as the cop on the trail of a sadistic killer, despite her young age I think she does a commendable job playing a detective role that seems beyond her years, going through the varied emotions and physical and psychological torments with a good deal of believability, she's really put through the emotional wringer, raped multiple times, subjected to humiliation and physical pain. At the time and in the years since the fact that it was the actress's own father that put her through the on-screen torments has not gone unnoticed, but I will leave the family therapy to the Argento clan, all I can say is she does a great job with the character and her tribulations, making them believable within reason. Thomas Kretschmann is also quite good as the rape-y, sadistic killer, a brutal presence, unhinged and not someone you'd hope to ever encounter. Also showing up in smaller roles you might spot Italian familiars Marco Leonardi (Cinema Paradiso) as a cop and The Beyond's Cinzia Monreale as a victim's wife. 

The movie has a strange story structure, with what feels like the main climax coming towards the middle of film, it seem like the natural end to the story, but Argento prolongs it and explores the fallout from the trauma, with Argento again changing hairstyles, transforming from a boyish short-crop cut to donning a blond wig, giving the movie a bit of a Hitchcock blond, and further exploring the psychological underpinnings of the stendhal syndrome and the trauma caused by the brutal rapes. I think the unorthodox story structure makes the final reel fizzle just a little bit, but this is a movie that I feel has only gotten better with age, each viewing bringing with it a new appreciation as one of Argento's more solid entries during his late-era, and one of Asia Argento's strongest performances to date. 

The special effects are decently bloody, the violence is visceral and most of the effects hold up well aside from a few early digital effects, which are most noticeable during scenes of swallowing pills and another of a  bullet being fired through the face of an unfortunate victim, the latter of which feels like an early attempt at the type of effects shots we would often see later on the C.S.I. TV shows, with bullets being tracked through the body causing damage, and also a bit of a nod to Daria Nicolodi's death scene in the superior Opera (1987). The more unfortunate digital pill-swallowing felt like something out of the Lawnmower Man, not good. One area where the effects are well done and hold up even with the digital stuff are the scenes of the Stendhal syndrome in full-effect, as Anna walks into the painting, overwhelmed by them, it's not quite seamless but it is pretty cool, and Morricone's dizzying score further accentuates the surreal imagery.     
Audio/Video: The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) arrives on 3-disc limited edition Blu-ray/DVD from Blue Underground with a brand-new 2K scan of the original camera negative, framed in the proper 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and this is the first home video release to frame it in the proper widescreen aspect ratio, all previous versions have been cropped 1.66:1. The results are pleasing, a crisp and vibrant image with a tighter grain structure, colors are vivid, a nice step up from my Blue Underground 2-disc edition DVD. That said, there are some compression issues present throughout the presentation, while I honestly didn't take note of it during my initial viewing, after some online comments regarding the issue came to light I did see some of what has been described during my second viewing. Blue Underground are aware and are looking into the issue as stated on their Facebook feed: "We’ve received a few emails from customers noting a possible compression problem on The Stendhal Syndrome Blu-ray. We are in the process of investigating this issue with the facility that authored the disc. We will post an update as soon as we have further information.". So, the issues that have been reported are being looked into to, not sure if these are authoring issues, but hopefully we will know soon enough. 

Audio options on the Blu-ray include both English and Italian Dolby Digital and DTS-HD MA mixes in Stereo 2.0, Surround 5.1 and Surround 7.1 with optional English subtitles. The lossless 7.1 audio mix is fantastic, there's a nice spacial filling of the room, the Italian track is the one to go with here, it's powerful, robust and well-mixed, the English-dubbed audio is weird, and Asia did not dub the English track, her natural voice is more pleasing on the Italian options. The Ennio Morricone score is highlighted throughout, lush and rich compositions that pleasantly tickle the ear-holes, Morricone scored Argento's first three films, the animal trilogy, before the director joined forces with prog-rockers Goblin, it's great to hear/see their work melded together again onscreen. 

Of note, apparently the audio is not without controversy either, the English dubbed audio has been reported to be missing a few seconds of audio and dialogue, one instance around the 51:08 mark seems to be missing a few short lines of dialogue. As I preferred the Italian mix it didn't effect my viewing experience but it is an issue worth knowing about going in. Also in question is some missing additional audio of Anna screaming that appears to be missing around the 20:28 mark, though when I watched it it doesn't appear that the character is screaming at that moment, but apparently there are other releases said to include the additional audio cue.  

Onto the bountiful extras Blue Underground carry over all the features from the previous 2007 Blu-ray, over 103-minutes of interviews with Argento, special effects maestro Sergio Stivaletti, psychological consultant Graziella Magherini, assistant director Luigi Cozzi, and production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng. All of these are conducted in Italian with English subtitles. These are presented on a separate DVD in standard definition. 


Ltd. Edition (500)slipcover available
only from www.diabolikdvd.com
Blue Underground have also created several brand new extras exclusive to this release, these are on the main Blu-ray disc and on the identical DVD presentation, beginning with a top-notch commentary from with Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse, Howarth goes deep with loads of information about the origin, making and reception of the film, it's distribution and adding many of his own insights and readings about the psychological thriller. There's never a dull moment and he keeps chipping away throughout the entire movie. 

There are also brand new interviews with star Asia Argento (20 min), Special Makeup Artist Franco Casagni (10 min) and Co-Writer Franco Ferrini (14 min), all in HD, spoken in Italian with English subtitles. Rounding out the extras is a trailer and a gallery of poster and stills. There's also a 20-page color booklet with a new essay by author Michael Gingold including images from the film and posters. 


The release comes housed in a Criterion-style oversized clear Blu-ray keepcase, with a sleeve of reversible artwork.  Inside are three discs, a Blu-ray and DVD containing the same feature and extras, plus the bonus DVD disc containing the extras from the 2-disc DVD edition from 2007.  Also of note, the first 500 copies order from www.daibolikdvd.com will include an exclusive limited edition embossed, raised lettering slipcover with unique artwork as pictured above.  


Special Features: 


Disc 1/2 Blu-ray/DVD Extras:
- NEW Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse
- Three Shades Of Asia – NEW Interview with Star Asia Argento (20 min) HD  Interview with Special Makeup Artist Franco Casagni (10 min) HD Italian with English Subtitles. 
- Prisoner Of Art – NEW Interview with Co-Writer Franco Ferrini (14 min) HD  Interview with Special Makeup Artist Franco Casagni (10 min) HD Italian with English Subtitles. 
- Sharp As A Razor – NEW Interview with Special Makeup Artist Franco Casagni (10 min) HD Italian with English Subtitles. 
- Theatrical Trailer (1 min) HD 
- Poster and Still Gallery

Disc 3 DVD Extras: 2007 Extras 

- Director: Dario Argento (20 min) Italian with English Subtitles. 
- Inspiration: Psychological Consultant Graziella Magherini (22 min) Italian with English Subtitles. 
- Special Effects: Sergio Stivaletti (16 min) Italian with English Subtitles
- Assistant Director: Luigi Cozzi (22 min) Italian with English Subtitles
- Production Designer: Massimo Antonello Geleng (23 min)Italian with English Subtitles 
- 20-Page Collectible Booklet with new essay by author Michael Gingold

The Stendhal Syndrome has aged surprisingly well despite some goofy, early digital special effects, it's a brutal film with some truly interesting psychological twist and turns, it may not shine as bright as some of the gems in Argento's prime-era canon but it is a damn good watch. This is an Argento entry deserving of some serious reassessment, there's a lot to love about it, and while it might not be the best Argento had to offer it is a solid psychological-thriller with some tasty giallo-esque moments. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

TERMINAL ISLAND (1973) (DVD Review)

TERMINAL ISLAND (1973) 

Label: Umbrella Entertainment

Region Code: Region-FREE NTSC
Rating: R
Duration: 88 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (No Subtitles) 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Stephanie Rothman
Cast: Tom Selleck, Don Marshall, Ena Hartman, Phyllis Davis, Sean Kenney, Roger Mosley 


Synopsis: America in the near future, the Supreme Court drops the death penalty in favour of an initiative that designates San Bruno island as a dumping spot for first-degree murder convicts, free to do what they like except leave. Surrounded by murderers and mayhem, without any law or law-keepers it is a living hell-on-earth! Ruthless convicts Bobby (Sean Kenney, The Corpse Grinders) rules the main camp and keeps the women under his thumb as sex slaves. Tensions within the group flare-up and when courageous A.J Thomas (Don Marshall, Land of the Giants) decides to turn his back on tyrannical Bobby he leads a group of like-minded convicts into hiding, determined to liberate the women once and for all. With the line drawn in the sand, it is only a matter of time before an all-out battle is mounted for control of the island.

One of the very few female drive-in directors of the 70s, Stephanie Rothman (The Velvet Vampire), brought us this action-packed slice of 70s exploitation, a sleazy and violent movie that predates both Battle Royale (2000) and John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981) but traffics in the same sort of anything goes scenario on a remote island - it was a bit ahead of its time. Here we have a dystopian vision wherein the American Supreme Court has abolished the death penalty, the chosen alternative is to strand the convicted murderers on San Bruno Island, a remote island off the coast of California, a place dubbed "Terminal Island", where the murderers live a Lord of the Flies existence, fending for themselves, there are no rules, and only the strongest and most vile of the bunch will survive. 


First-degree murderers are sentenced to live the remainder of their natural-born lives on the island, after sentencing they are transported to the island via a small boat by armed guards through a maze of mines by that surround the island, dropped off on the shore and left to make due on their own with just the clothes on their back and a few cans of food. The inhabitants on the island have formed into two factions, one group aligning themselves with a sadistic bastard named Bobby (Sean Kenney, The Corpse Grinders), who along with his muscleman Monk (Roger E. Mosley, Land of the Gainst), rule the island with violence and tyranny, imprisoning the few women left-alive as sex-slaves who serve at the pleasure of the men, which gives the movie a certain women-in-prison (WIP) aesthetic. The smaller faction of men living on the island are more civilized and less rape-y, lead by  A.J. (Don Marshall), they seem to just want to exist and live freely and are not into the violence, and imprisoning and raping the women.

The latest woman to arrive on the island is the bad-ass and bad-tempered Carmen (Ena Hartman), she arrives to the sight of dead bodies littering the surf and beach, victims of the island, it's a nice touch. She doesn't take too kindly to the new accommodations, she fights back but ends up beaten down and forced into labor by Bobby and his crew. However, not all of Bobby's crew are completely diabolical, we have a sympathetic, but drug-addled doc, named  Dr. Milford (Tom Selleck), who was sent to the island for having assisted a terminally ill man with his own suicide, he's the first resident of the island that Carmen encounters, and he proves to be a decent man by the end of the flick, despite his affiliation with Bobby.  


The two faction who are ideologically opposed and are at war with each other, when A.J. and his men free the enslaved women from Bobby's crew it starts an all-out war, with the women aligning themselves with the smaller group. As the violence goes on we get multiple knifings and fist fights, blow darts, home-made grenades, lashings with a whip, and a bang-up finale at the end with plenty of cheap action, bloody violence and a fiery explosion that was quite satisfactory. 

The movie does a good job setting-up the dystopian mythology in a short amount of time in the opening few minutes with a TV news segment that sets up the idea of Terminal Island, how it came to pass and introduces us to a few of the characters through a series of images and mini-bios for key players. It's a cheap but effective bit of world building, not too different from our own, but only slightly more dystopian than what we're experiencing at this moment in time. 


The cast features a load of familiar face, even through the beard it's hard to not to recognize future TV star Tom Selleck (Magnum P.I.) and his future co-star Don Marshall, but we also get fun turns from busty Phyllis Davis from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Marta Kristen (Battle Beyond the Stars), and Barbara Leigh (Student Nurses) as a mute convict who murdered her parents, and James Whitworth who played Jupiter in Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes shows up as one of the baddies. The cast is fun and jump right into the action with plenty of explosions, fighting and gunplay, more than enough to keep the eyes glued to the TV - even if some of the acting is only just passable and a few of the fight scenes are clumsy. There's also some humor peppered throughout, highlighted by a fun skinny-dipping scene with a topless Phyllis Davis that ends with her smearing honey from a beehive onto the private parts of one of the men in a would-be act of seduction that ends with him being stung by a swarm of bees, it's a fun bit. 

Audio/Video: Terminal Island (1973) arrives on DVD from Umbrella Entertainment framed in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) from what looks to be a theatrical print. Colors are muted and a bit washed out, the fine detail is lacking but overall this is a decent print that is very watchable, it just has that grindhouse patina to it. The English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio likewise is rough but listenable, with some audible hiss and crackling from time to time. There are no subtitles options and no extras, not even a start-up menu, this goes right into the film once you pop it on. The disc is marked as region 2 and 4 compatible, but it played just fine on my region 1 DVD player, so it would appear to be region-free! 


Terminal Island (1973) has everything a cheap exploitation flick needs, there's loads of action, plenty of violence and the prerequisite nude scenes, and to top it off, it's actually a well-made movie with a solid premise.  If you're a fan of the Roger Corman produced WIP and jungle exploitation films like Jack Hill's  The Big Bird Cage this one fits comfortably in that very same 70s exploitation sweet spot.

Monday, July 17, 2017

PROBABILITY ZERO (1969) (DVD Review)

PROBABILITY ZERO (1969) 

Label: Umbrella Entertainment

Region Code: O NTSC
Rating: M (Mature Audiences)  
Duration: 91 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Maurizio Lucidi
Cast: Henry Silva, Luigi Casellato, Riccardo Salvino, Ezio Sancrotti, Franco Giornelli, Vittorio AndrĂ©, Marco Guglielmi, Maria Cristina Farnese, Paolo Magalotti, Fulvio Mingozzi, Tony Roico, Pietro Martellanza, Katia Christine, Renato De Carmine, Bill Vanders


In this Italian produced WW2 slice of war-is-hell cinema we have an Allied Spitfire fighter plane going down in Nazi occupied Norway, aboard the plane is a new form of radar equipment utilized by the Allied forces, and the fact that this has fallen into the hands of the enemy poses a threat to the war effort. The Nazis are transporting the wreck of the plane to a underground mountain base in Norway where it will be dissected and repaired, and the Allies must assemble a ragtag brigade to infiltrate the base and destroy the plane before it can give up its secrets to the Nazis.

What first caught my eye about this movie was that the screenplay was written by Dario Argento (Suspiria), a year before he directed his breakout debut crime-thriller The Bird with The Crystal Plumage (1970). It was produced by his father Salvatore Argento, and Dario had been cutting his teeth penning stories for Italian movies for a few years already, including Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Cemetery Without Crosses (1969), and a few other spaghetti war movies like Sullivan's Marauders (1968).


The Argento connection might prove disappointing to anyone expecting more than a fairly standard issue WW2 film along the lines of The Dirty Dozen (1967), with a rag tag crew of men assembled by American officer Duke (Henry Silva) who amasses a small squad of mercenaries willing to join his team, sometimes under coercion, for what has been deemed a "probability zero" mission with almost no chance of success or survival. It's fun stuff for what it is, with way more production value than I had envisioned going into it, we get decent WWII Nazi costuming, and some fun action set pieces at sea, on the battlefield, on the mountain, and even some submersible underwater action in a mined river, leading up to a full-on assault at the underground Nazi base, which was action-packed. Along the way there's plenty of small skirmishes, turmoil and tension amidst the group that all adds up to a gritty war film that moves along swiftly. 


Henry Silva (Escape from the Bronx) is the main attraction here, a sort of duplicitous bad ass willing to kill his own men if they disobey or stray from the mission, at one point taking out an AWOL member of the brigade with a sniper rifle when it becomes apparent he's heading for the hills. The men that make up his misfit brigade are a good bunch, there's not much depth to any of them but they do what they need to do, getting the mission done against the odds. We have the usual array of miscreants - a mountain climber accused of cowardice, a black market smuggler, an Italian POW with a penchant for torpedoes, and a troublesome frogman/saboteur, plus blond femme fatale (Maria Cristina Farnese, The Conspirators) who is not above using her curvy body to get what she needs from the Nazi scum. 

It all comes to a proper head at the Nazi base in Norway, the men crawling through an AC duct, dragging along a rather large torpedo, which they use to blast the Nazi base (and the plane with the top-secret radar system) to smithereens, but not without some casualties to the Allied team, but trust me they take a metric ton of Nazi to the grave with them, ha ha. 


The action is pretty damn good throughout, the production value is high, and while I am pretty sure this was shot in Spain through he magic of color grading it does have a certain cold Norway atmosphere, and to be honest I wouldn't know Norway from Spain anyway, so they convinced me at least. The action is plenty gritty, loads of bullets flying, stressful dramatic tension and Argento stuffs the story it with some convoluted story stuffing. It makes for a damn decent WWII flick with plenty of action, I'll definitely be adding a few more of the spaghetti war flicks to my to-watch list, this was fun. 


Audio/Vidoe: Probability Zero (1969) arrives on region-free NTSC formatted DVD from Australian label Umbrella Entertainment in anamorphic widescreen, framed in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio The source looks beats to Hell with all manner of blemish, vertical scratches, dirt, fading and blown-out whites - it certainly has a grindhouse feel about it. Likewise the English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio audio is boxy with distortion, with plenty of snaps, crackles and pops, but the whole affair was watchable, and it didn't detract much from my viewing. The DVD is bare-bones, there's no start-up menu, it goes straight into the feature. There are no subtitle options, and no extras.

Fans of Italian-made WW2 films should enjoy this one, plenty of cool scenery and gritty action, a fun turn from Henry Silva as a badass and a simple but action packed war-story that keeps the momentum moving forward.