Saturday, May 18, 2019

THE ENTITY (1982) (Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review)

THE ENTITY (1982) 

Label: Scream Factory 
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 125 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 4.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Cast: Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David Labiosa, George Cole, Alex Rocco 

Single-mom Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey, Black Swan) lives at home with her teenage son Billy (David Labiosa) and two adolescent daughters, she's an average California mom, until one night while alone in her room she is assaulted and raped by an unseen force, that's right folks, ghost rape! Now let me be clear, this sounds like pure schlocky exploitation, but there's more to it then what that shocking premise would seem to imply.

The assault happens again, only with more poltergeists activity surrounding it, causing she and her children to temporarily flee the home in terror. The assaults continue, one even nearly causing a car accident, and this time leaving behind visual evidence by way of hand prints and what look to bite marks on her inner thigh. However, when her teen son says that no one was in the house she begins to think that maybe she's going crazy, seeking the help of arrogant psychologist Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver, The Arrival), who believes that the incidents are purely delusions caused by a childhood sexual trauma, which are revealed during the therapy sessions.

The assaults continue, including one right in front of her kids, her son tries to intervene but is caught in some sort of electrical discharge and is thrown across the room, breaking his arm. Carla then runs into a pair of parapsychologists from the local college, though they are skeptical of her story but nonetheless spend the night in the home and are shocked by the previously unfathomed 
supernatural activity happening within the home and around the woman, thus beginning a full-on 24-hour monitoring of the home, and though the spectral attacks seem to stop altogether there's still plenty of strange supernatural activity happening in the home. 

With the attacks waning Carla begins to feel more at ease, feeling that the parapsychologists
 interventions are more effective than Dr. Sneiderman's psychiatric therapies, though he still tries to convince her that the he feels the events are all psychological in nature, and are happening in her head. 

During an intimate night at home with her boyfriend Jerry (Alex Rocco, Freebie and the Bean) Carla experiences the most horrific assault to date, with the spectral attacker pinning a nude Carla to the bed, her breasts being being graphically groped by the unseen force, this is the scene that I saw on TV as a kid, and it traumatized me in a weird way, of course my adolescent mind was curious about the breasts on display, but on the other hand the ghostly sexual assault horrified me to no end. 

The film culminates on a strange note, with a weird experiment happening at the university where Carla's house has been painstakingly recreated in a controlled environment. The plan is to freeze the spectral force using liquid helium, which also puts Carla in great danger, but so desperate is she to be rid of the ghostly rapist that she's willing to risk life and limb to do so. The whole experiment seems a bit over-the-top compared to what's been happening in the film thus far, but I guess they needed a big finish for the film.

This is a movie that traumatized me as a kid, and even now I think it's a harrowing watch, thanks in part to the atmospheric visuals captured by cinematographer Stephen H. Burum (Body Double), and a strong script by Frank De Felitta (Audrey Rose), but the film is anchored by the sympathetic yet strong performance from Barbara Hershey, who is really phenomenal here, turning what could have been a cheap slice of ghost-rape exploitation into a thoughtful examination. This is a movie that easily could have gone wrong in so many ways and numerous times, it could have slipped into the realm of ghostly exploitation, but thanks to the controlled direction of Sidney J. Furie (The Jazz Singer) and a wonderful turn from Hershey it walks the line, but there are times I think it goes a bit overboard. Notably during those "thrasher" music cues that start up during the assaults, sounding very similar to the music sting used throughout Maximum Overdrive (1986), and again when the entity speaks a single line of dialogue at the very end, but overall this one is still a frightening, and harrowing tale of supernatural rape. 

Audio/Video: The Entity (1982) arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory in 1080p HD framed in the 2.35:1 scope aspect ratio. I have the benefit of also owning this film on three separate Blu-ray releases, from Eureka Entertainment, Umbrella Entertainment, and the initial release from Anchor Bay. This release looks to mirror the Anchor Bay scan, appearing a bit darker and more saturated than both the Umbrella and Eureka releases, which are slightly brighter by comparison. 

Scream Factory offer something not previously available on previous Blu-ray release. They include the English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 track, but they also offer the original DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix, plus the DTS-HD MA 4.1 mix from the 70mm presentation of the film. All options are crisp and clean, with the Charles Bernstein score is both atmospheric and jarring, really amping up when the "thrasher" attack theme is cranked. Optional English subtitles are provided. 

While Scream could not get approval for a new scan of the film from 20th Century Fox they have come through with some great cool extras, beginning with a brand new interview with star Barbara Hershey who speaks about being drawn to the controversial film by the supernatural versus psychiatric nature of the role, touching on the true life story that inspired the film, and choosing not to meet with the woman her role was based on, unsure if that was even an option. Hershey also goes into the details of filming the harrowing ghost-rape scene, including how they filmed the infamous booby-grope stuff.

Actor David Labiosa who played Carla's teenage son speaks about landing the role following his appearance in a popular TV film, and the joy of working with Barbara Hershey and Ron Silver, the latter of who took the teen out to dinner and sightseeing in California. He also speaks about how refusing to shoot a particular stunt scene may have lead to other scenes of his being cut, including an incestuous scene with his character's mother, He also lost some screen time after on-set injury resulted in him breaking his wrist. The reason her turned down shooting his own stunt is rather silly when you hear about it. 

Composer Charles Bernstein shows-up for a 17-min interview, beginning by saying despite scoring o er a hundred of films it's always these horror films that get discussed hyears afterward. He describes his scoring process, creating the "thrasher" theme, and going into the unique way that director Sidney J. Furie worked with music in his films, and praising the performance of Barbara Hershey. 

Editor Frank J. Urioste shows up for a 12-min interview, talking about how he came to work with the director, his family's background in music, and touching on the real encounters experienced by writer Frank De Felita encountered that inspired his film, and his own strange encounters while editing this film.

The film also gets a brand new audio commentary with with author/filmmaker Daniel Kremer (Sidney J. Furie: Life and Films), which gives a career retrospective of the director, filled with loads of anecdotes and factoids about the making of the film. 

Rounding out the extras we have a Trailers From Hell commentary from Suspiria remake director Luca Guadagnino, a vintage 27-min featurette The Entity Files, which recounts the real-life case that inspired the film, plus a trailer, TV and radio spots, plus an image gallery.

The single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring illustration from artist Joel Robinson, the reverse side featuring the original poster artwork. Not a huge fan of the new artwork, for whatever reason this is a release that has never really had a great artwork option in my opinion, who would of thought it would be so hard to capture the essence of a ghost-rape film? Well, look up the Turkish movie poster, those guys almost got it, but you won't find it in the gallery on this one.   

Special Features: 
- NEW Inner Strength – an interview with actress Barbara Hershey (19 min) 
- NEW Seeing Is Believing – an interview with actor David Labiosa (14 min) 
- NEW High Dread – an interview With Composer Charles Bernstein (17 min) 
- NEW Spirits & Sprocket Holes – an interview With Editor Frank J. Urioste (12 min) 
- NEW Audio Commentary with author/filmmaker Daniel Kremer (Sidney J. Furie: Life and Films)
- Trailers From Hell - The Entity with audio commentary by Luca Guadagnino (Suspiria - 2018) (2 min) 
- The Entity Files Featurette (27 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (1 min) 
- TV Spots (1 min) 
- Radio Spotsn (1 min) 
- Still Gallery
- Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 4.1

This spectral-terror thriller really holds up, it's a weird one for sure though, a rape story by way of The Legend of Hell House (1973) complete with psycho-analysis, parapsychology, and harrowing sexual assault - yet somehow it manages not to be a slice of ghost/rape exploitation. While it's a shame Scream Factory couldn't get approval for a new scan of the film the new extras and original audio options make this the more appealing release of the quartet of Blu-rays currently available, highly recommended. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

THE HOWLING COLLECTION (1987-1991) (Umbrella Entertainment DVD Review)


Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: Region-free, 4 PAL, NTSC 
Rating: M

The Howling Collection arrives on a 4-disc set from Umbrella Entertainment collecting Howling III-VI, a series of films that are not really connected in anyway whatsoever, aside from the fact that they all feature werewolves to varying degrees. 

Duration: 98 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Philippe Mora
Cast: Barry Otto, Imogen Annesley, Max Fairchild, Leigh Biolos, Dasha Blahova, Ralph Cotterill, Barry Humphries

Howling III - The Marsupials (1987) is what I consider to be the last really good film in this series, an all-out ozploitation version of a werewolf film that while never boring also doesn't make a a lot of sense. The film is directed by Phillipe Mora (The Beast Within) who also directed the fairly awful - though not un-entertaining - The Howling II: You're Sister Is A Werewolf (1985), and for this third film he went full on ozploitation, filming in Australia with a largely Australian cast, making a full-tilt slice of weird werewolf movie making the likes of which the cinema world had not seen before, or since.

Duration: 88 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 
Video: Full Frame (1.33:1) 
Director: John Hough 
Cast: Romy Windsor, Michael T. Weiss, Suzanne Severeid, Anthony Hamilton, Lamya Derval, Dennis Folbigge, Norman Anstey

The fourth film in the series is advertised as going back to the original source novel, but also really coming across as a much poorer version of the first film. Here we have an author suffering a mental breakdown who moves into the country with her philandering husband, where it turns out that all the locals are weirdos... and werewolves! Strangely the turd of a film was directed by John Hough (The Legend of Hell House), but I've heard he was brought in late after the original director was canned, but even he couldn't polish a werewolf turd of this magnitude, not could some decent special effects work from Steve Johnson (Bad Moon). That said the special FX are truly the only highlight of the film, with a melt-down scene reminiscent of The Devil's Rain (1975) and some cool-looking werewolves that are only glimpsed for a few moments. The film has zero atmosphere, but plenty of fog, and the acting is uniformly awful throughout, making this the worst of all the Howling sequels in my opinion.

Duration: 96 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 
Video: Full Frame (1.33:1) 
Director: Neal Sundstrom
Cast: Philip Davis, Victoria Catlin, Elizabeth She, Ben Cole, William Shockley, Mark Sivertsen, Stephanie Faulkner

Thankfully not as awful as the previous film, Howling V: The Rebirth opens with a prologue set in 15th century Budapest in a castle where there's been some sort of  massacre, an ill-fated attempt to kill a werewolf in hiding among the inhabitants of the castle. A few hundred years later we arrive at the same castle where a group of nine stranger have been summoned to the castle. What transpires is a bit like The Beast Must Die, a sort of Agatha Christie murder mystery with a werewolf as the culprit. What this has going for it is a fun ensemble cast, a cool-looking snowbound Gothic castle, and some decent creepy-castle atmosphere. The bummer of it is that there is practically zero werewolf in it, even less than the last film, all we get is glimpses at a hair-suit and some lycan POV shots. What we get in it's place is a few too many scenes of people wandering aimlessly through the castle's shadowy corridors, and not enough bloody werewolf action. It's still a watchable murder-mystery of sorts with a finale that features the killer cheekily looking straight into the camera with a wink and a nod to the audience. Not a good werewolf film by any means but a fun enough murder mystery that's at least competently made which is not something I can say about the last film.

Duration: 102 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 
Video: Full Frame (1.33:1) 
Director: Hope Perello
Cast: Brendan Hughes, Michele Matheson, Sean Gregory Sullivan, Antonio Fargas, Carol Lynley, Jered Barclay, Bruce Payne, Gary Cervantes

In Howling V: The Freaks we have a Brit drifter who wanders into a rural village in Southern California, much to the chagrin of the local law. His arrival there is no accident, he's there to get revenge on the vampire that cursed him to become a werewolf in the first place, a vampire carnival owner who runs a circus freak show. The film does enough different to keep things fresh, making the werewolf a tragic hero is a nice touch, plus introducing a vampire element into the franchise, while none of that is groundbreaking stuff it certainly kept me entertained in a Full Moon Entertainment sort of way. It also helps that there's a lot more werewolf action happening here than in the last few entries in the series, including an actual transformation scene that feels a bit like the transformation from An American Werewolf on London but on a shoe-string budget, and a cool-looking purple-skinned, yellow-eyed vampire, with a decent bloodsucker versus lycan battle royal right at the end which was fun. Surprisingly this film is my favorite in the series since the third one, which I was not expecting. This has a good cast with fun supporting roles from the rubber-faced Antonio Fargas (Cleopatra Jones) and Deep Roy (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), plus special FX from Steve Johnson (Bad Moon).  

Audio/Video: Howling III-VI arrives on 4-disc DVD from Umbrella Entertainment with each film getting it's own separate disc, which is cool. Howling III is the only film on the set presented in anamorphic widescreen, looking to be the same restoration used by Umbrella for their latest Blu-ray release. Howling IV-VI are presented 4x3 fullframe, looking a lot less glorious. Audio for each film comes by way of English Dolby Digital with no subtitles. While each film gets it's own disc the films are presented bare-bones, there are no extras for any of the films whatsoever, there's not even a start-up menu. All the films are presented region-free even though the case indicates that it is region 4 locked. Howling III-VI are NTSC formatted, while Howling VI is PAL formatted. 

The 4-disc set arrives in a standard DVD keepcase, inside there are four discs featuring the films. The artwork on the wrap is a new illustration by Umbrella's in-house designer Simon Sherry, which looks to be based on the werewolf design from Howling V: The Rebirth, it's a fantastic illustration, the type of cool-looking artwork that will definitely sell a few copies of this set all on it's own. That same illustration is featured on all four discs.

This is a cool little set from Umbrella, the A/V of the latter films is not ideal, but then again neither is the quality of the actual films. That said I love having these four Howling films on one cool set with some eye-catching artwork.