Wednesday, October 18, 2017

STEPHEN KING'S CAT'S EYE (1985) (Umbrella Blu-ray Review)


Label: Umbrella Entertainment 
Region Code: A/B
Rating: M (Mature)
Duration: 95 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.4:1) 
Director: Lewis Teague
Cast: Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Alan King, Robert Hays, Kenneth McMillan, Candy Clark

Synopsis: A wandering supernatural feline's adventures provide the linking story for Stephen King's Cat's Eye, a dead on trilogy scripted by King and directed by Lewis Teague (Cujo).
The staff at Quitters Inc promises to help nicotine fiend Dick Morrison (James Woods) kick the habit. If not, someone in Morrison's household might get smoked... because QI is run by a very persuasive mob family. Next, a luckless gambler (Robert Hayes) is forced into a bet involving a stroll around a building - on the five-inch ledge encircling the 30th floor. Finally, our wayfarer kitty rescues a schoolgirl (young Drew Barrymore) from a vile, doll-sized troll.
Fan of the works of Stephen King will have fun finding the many references to his other projects throughout the film.

This often overlooked 80's trilogy of terror begins with the titular feline escaping the jaws of not only the dog from Cujo (1983) but the wheels of the cursed-car from Christine (1983)in a nice homage to Stephen King's other movies. The cat shows up again in the opening story of the anthology, "Quitters, Inc." wherein a die-hard cigarette smoker named Dick Morrison played by James Woods (Videodrome) seeks the help of Quitter's Inc. to curb his addiction to nicotine. Quitters Inc. and the strong-armed Dr. Vinnie Donatti (Alan King, The Bonfire of the Vanities) have put together quite an extreme stop-smoking program, one seemingly based on the tactics employed by mafia, as demonstrated by their willingness to repeatedly electrocute a poor cat as an example of what they will do if they catch him smoking. A threat not directed towards him, but to his lovely wife and family. The threat is only too real as he comes to find out when sneaking a puff proves too much for him to resist, even when faced with dire consequences. The short has plenty of laughs and uncomfortable moments of pain being inflicted upon his wife, Woods is wonderful as the chain-smoker caught between his addiction and his love of family and there's a great surreal party-scene with him surrounded by exaggerated smoking behaviors. .  

Next up, the high-rise thriller "The Ledge", where we have a former tennis pro named Johnny Norris (Robert Hays, Airplane) who has angered wealthy casino owner Cressner by running off with his estranged wife. Cressner is played with comical ruthlessness by Kenneth McMillan (Dune) who kidnaps the would-be Lothario and forces him into accepting a deadly bet. The wager is that if Norris can circumnavigate his high rise penthouse apartment on the exterior ledge without falling to his death he will grant his wife a divorce and give the tennis pro a bunch of money. Norris reluctantly accepts the wager and climbs out onto the perilous ledge where he is menaced by Cressner who harasses Norris with water hoses and loud noises, all while taunting him with the annoyingly awesome line, "just trying to keep you on your toes". Norris must also contend with a tenacious pigeon who relentlessly pecks away at his ankles until they begin to bleed. Unsurprisingly Cressner welshes on the bet when Norris succeeds but when the tables are turned things to not go so well for the casino owner. It was a ton of fun to watch McMillan play such a son-of-a-bitch, he's an intense actor and plays the part with so much diabolical glee. The scenes of Norris traversing the exterior of the high rise are done with what appears to be a mixture of rear projection and miniature sets and the optical effects still look good to my eyes, this is a fun one, those with an aversion to heights might even get a bit light headed by the high rise thrills. 

The third and final entry in this trilogy of terror is "General", starring a young Drew Barrymore (E.T.) as Amanda, a young girl who is being menaced by a breath-sucking troll that lives inside her bedroom wall. However, her mother (Candy Clark, Amityville 3-D) places the blame for the troll's increasingly alarming shenanigans on the family poor cat, banishing him to stay the night outside, leaving poor Amanda unguarded with the malicious troll who threatens to steal her breath while she sleeps. Of course the cat comes through in the end, but I had forgotten what a gory end the troll comes to in this one, and was a bit surprised how bloody it was for a PG-13 rated anthology, but we got away with a lot more in kids movies back then. 

Cat's Eye is a fun watch, based on two of Stephen King's short stories from his Night Shift collection, plus a new one which he scripted just for this movie. I like the connective tissue of the titular cat going from one story to the next, and Lewis Teague, who also directed adapted Stephen King's Cujo for the silver screen, does a fine job with all three of the vignettes within the context of a kiddie friendly horror anthology.  

Audio/Video: Cat's Eye (1985) arrives on Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment looking great, there is a nice layer of film grain that looks like it has not suffered any major digital manipulation. The image is crisp, the colors are strong, skin tones look natural and the image is nicely detailed, the cinematography from Jack Cardiff (Ghost Story)looks phenomenal. Audio is handled by a lossless English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 track that is nicely balanced with good depth and fidelity, the score from Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future) sounds good in the mix, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Umbrella's release has two new, exclusive extras, a half-hour interview with actor Robert Hayes, plus an eight-minute interview with animal wrangler Teresa Ann Miller, produced by Cinemaniacs.  The interviews are good, with Hays recalling working on the film, particularly working with McMillan and how some of the high rise visuals were achieved, and animal trainer Miller recalls working on the film with her father Karl Lewis Miller, and how the St. Bernard seen in the film was actually one of the same one from the Cujo adaptation. Notably, Umbrella do not carry-over the audio commentary with director Lewis Teague which is found on the US disc from Warner Bro., so if you own that release you may want to hang onto it.  

The single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in an over-sized Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring new artwork, which is fantastic, made to look like a well-worn Stephen King paperback novel, even the spine has a coll distressed look. The reverse side features a variant of the same artwork minus the rating label, and the backside of the b-side features the original one sheet movie poster for the film. The disc features the same key art as the sleeve. While this release is labeled as a region B it plays just fine on my region A player. 

Special Features: 
- Interviews with Actor Robert Hayes (28 min) 
- Interview with Teresa Ann Miller (8 min) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) HD 

Cat's Eye looks great on Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment, a solid HD upgrade for this 80's Stephen King horror anthology with some very cool artwork and exclusive new extras. This is an awesome trilogy of terror that is both suspenseful and kiddie-friendly enough that you can watch it with your kids, which is awesome.  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

RED CHRISTMAS (2016) (Umbrella DVD Review)


Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: 4 (PAL)
Rating: Unrated
Durataion: 78  Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Craig Anderson
Cast: Dee Wallace, Geoff Morrell, Sarah Bishop, Janis McGowan, David Collins, Bjorn Stewart, Gerald Odwyer, Sam Campbell 

Synopsis: Matriarch Diane (Dee Wallace) has invited her children to celebrate one last Christmas in their family home. Amid celebrations and domestic drama, they receive a visit from a mysterious stranger. Disfigured and cloaked, they feel sorry for him until they discover his extreme religious motives and anti abortion message. Diane orders him to leave unaware he is her son. Twenty years ago she had an abortion and on that day a religious zealot bombed the clinic. Her still-living foetus was taken and raised by the bomber. After being rejected by his mother once again when all he wanted was love, he seeks vengeance and kills the family who cast him out.

Australian director Craig Anderson's Red Christmas (2016) is a gleefully bloody abortion-themed Christmas slasher that you won't soon forget, opening with the bombing of an abortion clinic by pro-lifers, the explosion interrupts an abortion in progress, in the end the fetus is unceremoniously tossed into a bucket, where it still clings to life, as evidenced when a bloody hand emerges from the bucket, where it is rescued by a pro-lifer.

With that low-standard of taste established we move ahead twenty years to a Christmas gathering at the home of Diane (Dee Wallace, The Howling) with her children and in-laws gathered. We have her second husband Joe (Geoff Morrell, Rogue), the down-syndrome afflicted twenty-something Jerry (Gerard Odwyer), uptight daughter Suzy (Sarah Bishop) and her preacher hubby Peter (David Collins), plus the very pregnant, slightly stoned and super horny Ginny (Janis McGavin) and husband Scott (Bjorn Stewart), plus adopted daughter Hope (Deelia Meriel). The gathering is a typical xmas get together with the usual amount of family tensions, particularly from Virginia who is angered that her mother is on the cusp of selling their childhood home to go on a European vacation, and Suzy who has been struggling to have a child is resentful of her preggers sister Ginny - all pretty typical family/holiday stresses.

The difficult yuletide gathering is interrupted when stranger draped in a black cloak and covered in bandages shows up on the doorstep. In the spirit of the holiday Diane allows the stranger into her home, his introduces himself as Cletus (Sam Campbell). While seated in the living room Cletus begins to read a letter to the group in a muffled voice, it's a note addressed to his mother. The letter has religious overtones that touch on the subject of abortion, which immediately angers Diane, who angrily forces him to leave the home.

However, the cloaked stranger shows up later in the night and a proper bloodbath ensues with family members meeting their doom at the end of his ax. Red Christmas is a fairly standard low-budget holiday themed slasher with a strange abortion  theme, it doesn't pretend to have a great deal of mystery about it, but it is bathed in blood with plenty of low-budget gore, which is executed nicely with what looks to be mostly practical special effects. The killer draped in a Grim Reaper style hooded cloak makes a visually intriguing killer, and his origin story is unique., the whole thing feels very Troma-esque at times - you could have called this one The Aborted Avenger, especially when we catch a very brief glimpse of his deformed face!

Dee Wallace, bless her, still has the strength and presence she brought to her roles in Cujo (1983) andThe Howling(1981), chewing on the scenery as the matriarch trying desperately to stop the extinction her bloodline at the hands of the deformed abortion survivor - who may or may not be her son. The kills are well done and deliciously bloody, we have someone being sliced in-half the long way down, someone getting their brains scrambled by the blades of a blender, and an umbrella through the eye - the latex and blood kills are fun - even when the budget limitations show through from time to time.

The movie is drenched in red and green colored lighting, this is maybe the most retina-burning red movie since Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977), the scene towards the final third are deeply lit by harsh colored lighting - despite having had the power cut - which gives the whole thing a surreal Christmas feeling, which is both stylish and perhaps a way to cover-up some of the low-budget issues of the film, but it does feel slightly overdone at a certain point. However, you cannot deny that this xmas slasher is bathed in more moody Christmas lighting than few films before it.

The movie is a fun black comedy, the kids of this family are down right annoying, with he exception of down's syndrome afflicted Jerry, who turns out to be a very capable adversary and protector, but his sisters and their hubbies are unsympathetic meat for the slasher grinder, these are not victims you mourn honestly, you cheer their demise. The mix of family dysfunction, pregnancy and abortion themes, special needs and bloody carnage make for an odd mixture, but I loved it.

The abortion theme seems to be played from both sides of the argument, on one hand if Wallace's character hadn't of had the abortion none of this would have happened, on the other hand, if the pro-lifer hadn't of rescued the deformed fetus from the waste bucket that too would have been the end of the story, I don't mind the ambiguity if that's what it is, this is a pretty straight ahead slasher, and the abortion theme is just another layer of exploitation to cut through.  

Special Features: 
- Feature-length commentary with writer-director Craig Anderson (20 min) and actor Gerard O'Dwyer 

- Behind the Scenes Part 1 (15 min) 
- Behind the scenes Part 2 (13 min) 
- An Interview with Gerard Odwyer - Craig Anderson and Actor Sam Campbell Speak with Actor Gerald Odwyer (10 min) 
- Deleted Scene (1 min) 
- Teaser Trailer (1 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 

Dee Wallace shines in this yuletide bloodbath, it's great to see her still doing her thing in this fun and rather cynical abortion-themed slasher. While the movie is not a stone-cold Christmas terror classic along the lines of Black Christmas (1973) it is a fun dysfunctional family Christmas slasher with loads of gore, you should give this a turn in your Christmas horror-thon this year, you won't be disappointed.

Monday, October 16, 2017

THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) (4K Restoration Blu-ray Review)


Label: Cohen Film Collection
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 72 Minutes 
Audio: English PCM Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Full Frame (1.37:1) 
Director: James Whale 
Cast: Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Eva Moore, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas, Raymond Massey

James Whale's The Old Dark House (1932) is based on J.B. Priestley’s novel "Benighted", it opens with married couple Philip (Raymond Massey, The Woman in the Window) and Margaret Waverton (Gloria Stuart, Titanic) driving by night through the hilly terrain of wales during an awful storm, they funnily bicker like a loving married couple while their friend Roger Penderel (Melvyn Douglas, Ghost Story) chimes in with considerable wit from the backseat. When a drenched hillside turns into mudslide it nearly buries the trio in their car, forcing them to seek shelter at a spooky mansion that seemingly appears out of nowhere from the night. 

The trio are greeted at the door by the lurch-erous Morgan (Boris Karloff, Black Sabbath), a mute giant of a man with a heavily scarred face. The mansion is owned by the eccentric, elderly siblings Horace Femm (Ernest Thesiger, Bride of Frankenstein) and his extremely hard of hearing sister Rebbecca (Eva Moore). Horace is a cadaverous looking man, but happens to be friendly and witty, while is sister Rebbecca is less welcoming and tries to send the trio of stranded travelers away. However, with the awful downpour they are allowed to stay, warming themselves by the huge fireplace and joining the Femm's for dinner, with Horace funnily offering a potato to everyone around the dinner table, there's something so great about Thesiger's performance, likewise Moore is amazing as the bickering sibling, who has a great exchange with Stuart about her rotting skin, so good.

While eating dinner there's another knock at the door, and two more stranded travelers arrive, taking shelter from the storm for the night. We're introduced to Sir William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton, Island of Lost Souls) and his platonic companion Gladys Perkins (Lilian Bond). Porterhouse is a bit of a loud braggart, and Gladys is only too happy to strike-up a budding romance with the handsome Mr. Penderel over sips of whiskey. 

As the night wears on this atmospheric but plot-bare old dark house entry begins to reveal it's secrets, such as the fact that more Femm's are kept locked away in rooms on the upper floors of the spooky Gothic mansion, including a creepy, laughing pyromaniac and a wickedly charming patriarch, Sir Roderick Femm (Elspeth Dudgeon). Meanwhile, creepy butler Morgan becomes increasingly drunk in the kitchen all to himself, but begins to act out towards the new visitors to the home. 

The movie sort of feels like a stage-play for a long part but the Gothic images are drenched in moody shadow and light, a scene of one of the guests making shadow-hand puppets against the wall is very striking, but much of the film does take lace in just a few rooms of the mansion, but I never grew tired of the location, it's a very entertaining movie and it's well lit and shot. 

This one didn't quite thrill me when I first watched it, I was expecting more of a William Castle-type entry, and he did actually remake this on in '63, but this time around I found myself quite happy and more than content with the wicked humor of the piece, this is a dark house comedy with a fun cast of characters who are witty, acerbic and fun to hang around with. The film is stolen by the charms of Gladys Perkins and Melvyn Douglass, and the bickering of elderly Femm siblings, including a late appearance from their older cousin Saul (Brember Wills) in a standout performance. Surprisingly Boris Karloff is onscreen for very little of the film, but he makes a memorable and hulking mute threat as the film wear on.  

Audio/Video: The Old Dark House (1932) arrives on Blu-ray from the Cohen Film Collection with a fantastic 4K restoration framed in the original full frame 137:1 aspect ratio. I have not watched by old Kino DVD for years, and I sold it when this was announced, but this is rather stunning uptick in quality from what I remember. Grain looks healthy, the shadow-drenched black and white cinematography looks absolutely gorgeous, there's some very fine shadow detail, and the black are inky and deep, and the image is surprisingly sharp. 

Audio on the disc comes by way of a Mono PCM English track, dialogue is intelligible throughout, there's some age related issues by way of somewhat distorted music cues and some hiss but this overall sounds remarkable considering the age of the film. Optional English subtitles are provided.

Onto the extras we get two audio commentaries, one from then-aging, now deceased, star Gloria Stuart, and a second from James Whale biographer James Curtis - both of these are carried over from the Kino release. We also get an archival interview with director Curtis Harrington who recalls how he saved the film from certain doom, spearheading the campaign to find and preserve the original  negatives. 

We get a brand new interview with Boris Karloff's daughter Sarah Karloff, interviewed by Dean Otto, with the famous daughter recalling her father's career, his love for special effects make-up man Jack Pierce, and having some slightly unsavory things to say about actor Charles Laughton - who apparently never had a kind word for her father. There's also a re-release trailer for the film. 

This single-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of artwork featuring artwork on the a-side and a scene from the film on the b-side. Sadly Cohen do not use the amazing original painted poster artwork for the film, and I'm not a fan the way the sleeve of artwork is framed with a "C" from "Cohen" and minimizes the artwork on the front sleeve and off centers it, but otherwise this release is fantastic through and through, this is only a nitpic. Inside there's a 12-page booklet containing a vintage interview circa '96 with director Curtis Harrington on the rediscovery of this once thought-lost film by film historian David Del Valle, plus chapter selection, cast and crew credits, and stills from the film. The disc itself features Karloff's character as seen on the sleeve. 

Special Features: 

- Audio Commentary by actor Gloria Stuart
- Audio Commentary by James Whale biographer James Curtis
- 12-Page Booklet containing Interview with director Curtis Harrington on the rediscovery of this once thought-lost film by David Del Valle
- New Interview with Sara Karloff, daughter of Boris Karloff (15 min) HD
- Curtis Harrington Saves The Old Dark House (7 min)  
- Re-release trailer (2 min) 

The Old Dark House (1932) is a witty, atmospheric chiller with loads of laughs, it doesn't make for a great scare film, but it is one heck of a fun old dark house comedy with solid direction from James Whale (Bride of Frankenstein). The new 4K restoration looks astounding, while it does show it's age this is the best the movie has ever looked on home video, a very attractive penetration through and through.    

Friday, October 13, 2017

INTO THE NIGHT (1985) (Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review)

Collector's Edition Blu-ray 

Label: Shout Factory/Shout Select

Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 115 Minutes 

Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: John Landis
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, Richard Farnsworth, Irene Papas, Kathryn Harrold, Dan Aykroyd, Bruce McGill, David Bowie

In John Landis's insomnia-thriller Into the Night (1985) Jeff Goldblum (The Fly) stars as Ed Okin, a sleep deprived man deeply unsatisfied by his job as an aerospace engineer who has just discovered that his wife is having an affair with her co-worker. On the strange advice of his friend (Dan Aykroyd, Spies Like Us) he heads to LAX airport to try to get some shuteye, which is where he encounters the gorgeous jewel thief Diana (Michelle Pfeifer (Batman Returns) who literally lands on his car, and thus begins a surreal, all-night odyssey of quirky mystery and intrigue. 

This is a strange little all-night thriller that features our duo making their way through Los Angeles trying to survive the night, on the run from a British hitman played by David Bowie (The Hunger) and four Iranian henchmen, one of whom is a mute character played by director John Landis. The movie is simplistically convoluted in a Hitchcockian by way of the Coen Brothers (Blood Simple), with Goldblum as the everyday man caught up in a web of intrigue, and Pfeiffer as the gorgeous blond femme fatale, the story line involving emeralds stolen from the Shah of Iran and some shady real estate deals, but the emeralds are just the McGuffin of the story that set in motion a series of events, and this movie could easily be described in unfavorable terms as just a series of events, but I love it.

In typical Landis fashion there are a metric ton of director cameos in the movie, be on the lookout for David Cronenberg (Shivers), Paul Bartel (Eating Raul), Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemeont High), Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat), and Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs)just to name a few. Also appearing in various roles are Bruce McGill (Animal House) as an Elvis impersonator, the lovable codger Richard Farnsworth (Barton Fink) as an old man on his deathbed, Vera Miles (Psycho), 80's celebrity body-builder Jake Steinfeld, and genre legend Clu Gulager (The Initiation) as an FBI agent, seriously half the fun of this movie is just cameo-spotting.

Where the movie arguably falters is that this thriller has no defined comeuppance or knot-tying finale, it's more about Goldblum's depressive and insomniac journey through the strangeness of L.A., a quiet but madcap thriller. Thankfully the chemistry between Goldblum and Pfeiffer is pretty great, for one she is stunning but also very funny, it's no wonder both went on to huge stardom soon afterward, they're both magnetic, Goldbum as the quirky every man and she as the alluring mystery woman. I myself would happily fall into her labyrinthine of intrigue if she landed on top of my car screaming for help, of that I have no doubt. 

Audio/Video: Into the Night (1985) arrives on Blu-ray from Shout Factory imprint Shout Select with a new HD scan framed in 1.85:1 widescreen  and it look simply wonderful. Colors are rich, black levels are deep, and the fine detail is lush, there's some really nice depth the image, too. Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 Mono track with optional English subtitles, the track is clean and buoyant, dialogue is sharp, and the strange blues-licks/80's synth score from Ira Newborn (Innocent Blood) and B.B. King come through smoothly.  

Shout! compliment the film with a few new extras, brand new interviews with both director John Landis and star Jeff Goldbum! John Landis shows up for a great 26-minute interview recounting all the casting that didn't happen, beginning with flying to Aspen, Colorado to meet with Jack Nicholson whom he wanted to star in the film, obviously Nicholson turned him down, but it's a fun story. He also speaks about wanting Gene Hackman (Night Moves) for the film but the studio head balked at the idea, and more talk of Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween) who dropped out of the project to star in a film with Travolta, that movie was the jazzer-cising Perfect (1983), and it was awful! Landis also goes into how he came to appear in such a large role in the film as one of the Iranians, also addressing how hard it is to make David Bowie look unsightly in a movie, he just looked so good no matter what they did to ugly him up. He also address the B.B. King/Ira Newborn score and how that was composed, with B.B. King playing along to the movie and then Newborn went in and composed instrumentation around those guitar licks, resulting in the strange blues/synth hybrid we hear.  

Goldblum shows up for a fun 22-min interview, he's funny, self-deprecating, seemingly realizing in the moment that this is kind of an homage to Hitchcock's Vertigo. He observes that he wasn't quite an actor at this point in his career, feeling he didn't really capture the character's transformation they way he could have, describing his style as "primitive and unsophisticated". He also speaks about some of the locations then and now, and how Landis referred to the lines for the day as "the jokes", which he calls fun and "kooky". He pitches an idea for a sequel at the end, which I would love to see. 

Also on the disc is the B.B. King documentary 'B.B. King Into the Night' which was directed by Landis.  This one features a music video for King's song "Lucille", a video featuring Goldblum and Pfeifer, in addition to Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, and Steve Martin as performers in the band, it's a bit of a fluff piece but fun just the same and does relate to the film, and features fun performances of the aforementioned "My Lucille", "Into the Night", and "In the Midnight Hour", plus a great vintage live clip of King playing "The Thrill is Gone" from 1973. The disc is finished-up with a trailer for the film.  

This single-disc Collector's Edition Blu-ray comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with the a-side featuring the original movie poster artwork, the b-side featuring a scene from the flick.The disc itself features a purple washed background with Pfeiffer's character on it.  

Special Features: 

- NEW Restored Master
- NEW John Landis: “Back Into The Night” (26 min) HD 
- NEW Jeff Goldblum: “Requiem For An Insomniac” (23 min) HD 
- Award-Winning Documentary B.B. King Into The Night 926 min) SD
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2 min) SD

I'm kind of sad that this insomnia-fueled thriller got by me for so long, on the other I am happy that my first viewing was this gorgeous Blu-ray from Shout Select. If you're a John Landis fan like myself who missed out on this one for so long you need to seek it out, this is a great edition with wonderful A/V presentation and some excellent extras. It's been a great few months for Landis fans, with Innocent Blood (1992) on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive, and now Into the Night (1985) from Shout!, and this one has some great extras, unlike the former. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

THREE O'CLOCK HIGH (1987) (Shout Select Blu-ray Review)

Collector's Edition 

Label: Shout! Factory/Shout Select

Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 97 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Stero 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Phil Joanou
Cast: Casey Siemaszko, Annie Ryan, Richard Tyson, Jeffrey Tambor, Philip Baker Hall, John P. Ryan

In the 80's teen-comedy cult-classic Three O'Clock High (1987) average sweater-wearing highschool student Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszko, Stand By Me) has one of the most nightmarish teen experiences of all time, he wakes up late for school, his clothes aren't dried and he ends up drying a shirt in the microwave, his car has flat and so he has to drive himself and his kid sister Brei (Stacey Glick, Brighton Beach Memoirs) to school in his mom;s very uncool car. En route to Weaver High Jerry nearly kills his sister and his own friend Franny (Anne Ryan, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) in a near catastrophic red-light running incident. Once he gets to school the entire student body at the school is buzzing with gossip about the new kid, the bad-ass Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson, Kingpin) a violent delinquent. 

As it turns out Jerry is a reporter for the school newspaper and is assigned to write an article about the new kid, as such Jerry strangely decides to approach buddy while he;s taking a piss at the urinal, and that's when he makes a huge mistake... he touches Buddy. That's all it takes, Buddy hates being touched. the leather jacket clad Terminator-esque Buddy slams Jerry into a mirror, informing him that at 3PM that day they will be fighting in the school parking lot after the final bell. That's the simple and funny set-up of the movie, and the six-hour countdown begins with clocks ticking away while the rather meek Jerry begins sweating anxious bullets in anticipation of what will most likely be his death. 

Three O'Clock High came out on home video at a perfect time for me, right before I started my Freshman year at South Seneca Central school in Ovid, New York. I was already frought with anxieties about what awaited me in the halls of highschool, my uncle Larry had been filling my head with the myriad of freshman atrocities that awaited me, and swirlies were foremost on my mind, and while this movie seemingly confirmed my worst fears it also made me laugh and relieved the tension a bit.

The movie speaks a universal truth about the highschool experience, the fear of bullying and violence we all feared coming into freshman year, having grown up on a steady diet of movies like Class of 1984 (1982) I was very concerned for my own safety, and this was before high school shootings were so damn commonplace, it was a different time indeed but the fears still existed. I remember a kid named Stuart bringing a loaded .45 to school, only to be temporarily suspended, not expelled, so yeah, the times were different, but the fear of swirlies and beat downs were still an imminent and appropriate fear. 

This quirky highschool entry is anchored by the two leads, we have nice guy Jerry, who's a wimp, but he has spunk, but he's also sort of annoying, and looks a bit too old to be a highschool kid. I cannot be the only one the thought that maybe a proper beat down might be just what this guy needed to snap out of his shell, but I certainly was rooting for him. Then we have the bad-ass Buddy Revell, a mysterious terminator figure, he seems indestructible, we know so little about him, and that's part of the fear-factor, he could be capable of anything! We also get a cast of side characters who populate the story, Jerry's sassy kid sister, his horny friend Franny who keeps insisting that they "bond", his dweeby best friend Vincent Costello (Jonathan Wise), the way too serious school security guard, Duke (Mitch Pileggi, Shocker), the extremely Germanic Dean of Discipline Mr. Dolinski (Charles Macaulay), and the Principle Mr. O'Rourk (John P. Ryan, Runaway Train), and the school teacher-adviser who oversees Jerry run the bookstore, Mr. Rice, played by Jeffery Tambor of Arrested Development. 

Jerry tries in vain to get out of having to face Buddy, he first tries to reason with him, when that doesn't work he and a friend attempt to plant a switchblade in Buddy's locker, which backfires, even attempting to hire a school jock to take-on Buddy, and when that doesn't go as planned he straight up robs the school bookstore to pay-off buddy, but Jerry's own self-loathing ruins that plan, too. 

The film is highly stylized with some fun camerawork from Barry Sonnenfeld (Blood Simple), it moves away from reality yet somehow captures the drama and teen-angst of highschool, it wonderfully captures that highschool anxiety, which is why I think the movie holds up so well now. The director purposefully set out not to ape the teen films of John Hughes, the film is decidedly more quirky and less teen-romantic, it shares more with Heathers (1988) in my mind than it does with Sixteen Candles, and it also owes a great debt to Martin Scorsese's After Hours (1985), which the director cops to right away in the extras. While the movie tanked when it first hit theaters it has developed a cult following conceit hit home video, the movie is loaded with quotable lines and relatable high school weirdness, it's still a very funny dark comedy about the anxieties of highschool.

Audio/Video: Three O'Clock High (1987) arrives on Collector's Edition Blu-ray from Shout! Factory imprint Shout Select framed in 1.85:1 widescreen, this doesn't look like a fresh new scan but instead a dated master provided by Universal, so it's not the fresh scan I'd have hoped for, but still this is a good looking Blu-ray. Grain is well-managed, a little thick in places, colors look good, but clarity and depth are lacking. It looks a tiny bit dark at times, but the source looks solid, there's some white speckling and very minor blemishes now and again, but nothing egregious or worrisome. Notably, it doesn't appear to have any aggressive digital noise reduction as I've read the German disc does, which is why I never imported it. The image looks good, but I couldn't help but wonder how great this would have looked with a fresh 2K scan from the original 35mm elements, I wanted to see more detail in Jerry's little blue sweater, lol. The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo track is solid, clean and crisp with decent separation, the Tangerine Dream score comes through very nicely, and everything is well-balanced. Optional English subtitles are provided. 

Shout! offer up new extras for this one, beginning with an audio commentary from director Phil Joanou, moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures, who also produced the new extras. It touches on how he came to the project, offered it by Spielberg after directing a few episodes of Amazing Stories, how he nearly turned the project down because he felt it was too much of a John Hughes type teen pictures. There's also over an hour of brand new interviews with Phil Joanou, Screenwriters Richard Christian Matheson And Tom Szollosiand Costume Designer Jane Ruhm. Notably both Joanou and the screenwriter/producer offer up slightly opposing views in regards to the Steven Spielberg not being credited as a producer. The director says that producer Aaron spelling wouldn't sell the script to Amblin Entertainment, but that Spielberg and Amblin "ghost produced" the film. Meanwhile the producer and screenwriter imply that Spielberg had his name removed as he was unhappy with the finished film and felt it did not represent the Amblin brand, it was too violent and dark. Costume Designer Jane Ruhm shows up and discusses her start right out of film school on the Roger Corman produced Candy Stripe Nurses (1974), before breaking into costume design on Death Race 2000(1975), and onto Speilberg's Amazing Stories TV show which is where she met director Joanou and got the gig on Three O'Clock High.  

The disc is finished-up with a trailer for the film and an image gallery containing stills, behind-the-scene images, key art and various home video releases. The single-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase that wisely keeps the iconic Drew Struzan artwork on the a-side and an image from the film on the b-side, the disc art features a scene from the parking lot battle royal. 

Special Features: 

- NEW Audio Commentary With Director Phil Joanou
- NEW “Head Of The Class” An Interview With Phil Joanou(33 min) HD 
- NEW “Passing the Test” Interviews With Screenwriters Richard Christian Matheson And Tom Szollosi (18 min) HD 
- NEW “School Clothes” An Interview With Costume Designer Jane Ruhm (14 min) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer(2 min) 
- Still Gallery (7 min) 

In my mind Three O'Clock High (1987) is a stone-cold cult-classic that deserves to be right up there with the John Hughes films, it one of my favorite teen black comedies, and I am loving the new extras on this disc, very highly recommended. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

DUDES (1987) (Shout Select Blu-ray Review)

DUDES (1987)
2-Disc Collector's Edition BD/DVD

Label: Shout Factory/Shout select
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 90 Minutes 

Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Penelope Spheeris 
Cast: Jon Cryer, Catherine Mary Stewart, Daniel Roebuck, Flea, Lee Ving 

In the Penelope Spheeris (Suburbia) directed punk rock western Dudes (1987) we have three NYC punkers; Grant (John Cryer, Pretty In Pink), Biscuit (Daniel Roebuck, River's Edge) and Milo (Flea, The Big Lebowski) who are tired of their go-nowhere scene and decide after a particularly crummy night that they're moving to Hollywood, CA, anticipating a West Coast punk-rock paradise. They pile into Grant's blue Volkswagen Bug and ht the road westward bound, stopping along the way to help a stranded rodeo entertainer named "Daredelvis" - an Elvis impersonator/rodeo clown! 

Later that night they stop off for the night and gather around a campfire in the desert when they are harassed by a group of violent rednecks led by Missoula (Lee Ving of punk rockers Fear), who rough up the boys, leading to a chase through the desert, culminating with a defiant Milo being shot point blank in the face by Missoula. Biscuit and Grant escape and approach the local cops the next morning about the murder, but because of their punk rock looks don't get any help other than to be told to leave town. 

Without any help from law enforcement the two punkers decide they will track down Missoula and avenge the death of their friend. The determined pair follow the violent rednecks through the desert, along the way meeting a cute and independent tow truck driver Jessie (Catherine Mary Stewart, Night of the Comet)who admires their tenacity, and a love story evolves between her and Grant. They stay with her for a few days, with both Grant and Biscuit begin having hallucinatory visions of a lone cowboy and Native Americans, and eventually the pair begin to adopt certain aspects of the cowboy and native Americans.  

The film has a weird tone, it humorous but there's a murder/revenge aspect to it, so the tone might be off-putting to a few but I enjoyed it, this makes for a breezy watch, it's not too serious and flies by, plus the song selection is phenomenal. This is by far my favorite thing Cryer has ever done, the nice guy-pun rocker with a lot of tenacity, Cryer's not exactly pulling off  the punk rock thing all that well, but I like his character a bunch, it's great to see Cryer as the hero who gets the girl for a change, none of that "Ducky" shit! The movie must have been a hard sell when it first appeared, a punk-metal western, buddy revenge film that doesn't fit comfortably being pigeon-holed, but if you're the sort that loves Repo Man (1984) and River's Edge (1987) I cannot help but think you're gonna love this strange and rocking roadtrip/revenge film.   

Audio/Video: Dudes (1987) arrives on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Shout! Factory imprint Shout select, this is a release that's never had a DVD release, this is the first release on digital home video, once again shout! rescue another one from decades long VHS-obscurity! The image is quite good, a bit on the grainy side with white speckling and debris present, but overall the source looks solid and clean, colors are good, fine detail is decent, too. 

The lone audio options is a DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 track with optional English surtitles. Everything seems order, the track is well-balanced and clean, the dialogue is never hard to decipher and the western-tinged score from Charles Bernstein (The Entity) sounds great, plus we get a great selection of punk and metal tunes from The Vandals, Jane's Addiction, Carl Perkins, Wall of Voodoo, Keel, W.A.S.P., and loads more, Like Repo Man and River's Edge this is has a killer soundtrack. 

Shout! comes though with a surprising amount of extras for this one, we get three interviews conducted by Spheeris with Jon Cryer, Flea and Daniel Roebuck - all of which are lively and info packed, it's great to hear about the making of the film, how it was scripted as more of a serious thriller and how it translated more as a comedy. There's also a 13-min interview with actress Catherine Mary Stewart  and a 14-min sit down with Writer J. Randall Jahnson And Producer Miguel Tejada-Flores. Finishing up the disc we have a vintage EPK, trailer and gallery. 

The 2-disc DVD/BD release comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase, the artwork is not reversible but the reverse side features a shot of the three punkers in the VW through the windshield, with each disc featuring it's own unique artwork.  

Special Features: 
- NEW “Duckie Dude” – Jon Cryer Interviewed By Penelope Spheeris (32 min) HD 
- NEW “Suburbia Dude” – Flea Interviewed By Penelope Spheeris (26 min) HD 
- NEW “Dude Looks Like A Lady” – An Interview With Catherine Mary Stewart (13 min) HD
- NEW “Mohawk Dude” – Daniel Roebuck Interviewed By Penelope Spheeris (25 min) HD
- NEW “Writer And Producer Dudes” – An Interview With Writer J. Randall Jahnson And Producer Miguel Tejada-Flores (14 min)
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) HD 
- Vintage Featurette: “Making of Dudes” (7 min) 
- Still Gallery

Dudes (1987) was a film I never has the chance to see in the theater, I had the soundtrack on cassette for a long time, I watched it on VHS, but the damn thing never hit DVD until this release, I doubted we'd ever see it, but Shout! Factory have been championing the early films of Spheeris, with Suburbia (1983) on DVD as part of the Roger Corman Cult Classics Collection, The Decline of the Western Civilization (1981) and its sequels on Blu-ray, and now we finally get Dudes, so it's great to see her pre-Wayne's World movies getting some HD love, particularly with these jam-packed collector's editions. 

THE ENTITY (1982) (Umbrella Blu-ray Review)

THE ENTITY (1982) 

Label: Umbrella Entertainment 
Region Code: Region A/B
Rating: 18 Certificate 
Duration: 125 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround 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 that shocking premise would imply. 

The assault happens again, only with more poltergeists activity surrounding it, causing she and her children flee the home in terror for the night. Follow-up assaults nearly cause a car accident and leave behind visual marks, including hand prints and 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 crazy, and seeks the help of psychologist Dr. Sneiderman (Ron Silver, The Arrival), who believes that the incidents are delusions caused by 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 thrown across the room, breaking his arm. Carla then run s into a pair of parapsychologists from the local college at a bookstore, though they are skeptical of her story at first they decide to spend the night in the house 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 the attacks seem stop altogether though supernatural activity is still taking place. 

With the attacks seemingly waning in strength Carla begins to feel more at ease, feeling that the parapsychologists are more effective than Dr. Sneiderman's therapies, though he still tries to convince her that the he feels the events are all in her head - which from experience I can tell you is no way to win an argument with a woman. One night while trying to have an intimate moment with her boyfriend Jerry (Alex Rocco, Freebie and the Bean), we experiences the most horrific assault to date, which is witnessed by Jerry with the spectral terror pinning Carla nude to the bed, in a graphic visual of her breasts being groped by the unseen force, this is a scene I saw on TV as a kid and it traumatized me in a weird way, on one had the adolescent mind was curious about the breasts, on the other hand the ghostly sexual assault horrified me! 

The movie culminates with a weird experiment at the university where Carla's house has been painstakingly recreated in a controlled environment, and the plan is too freeze the spectral terror 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 death,

The movie certainly traumatized e as a kid, I still think it's a harrowing watch, due 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 in my mind anchored by the sympathetic yet strong performance from Barbara Hershey, who is phenomenal here. 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 too sensational, notably during the "thrasher" music cue which starts up during the attack scenes, in hindsight it is a bit cheesy, and sounds like a similar music sting used in Maximum Overdrive (1986), and again when the entity speaks a single line of dialogue at the 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 Umbrella Entertainment in 1080p HD framed in the 2.35:1 scope aspect ratio, looking quite nice. Apparently sourced from the same 20th Century HD master used by both Anchor Bay in the US and Eureka in the UK. Overall the image looks good, clarity and detail is quite nice, grain is nicely resolved, and black levels look solid, but there s some murkiness in the darker scenes, but grain is nicely managed and colors look wonderful.  

Audio comes by way a a English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 track that is quite strong and well-balanced, the dialogue is crisp and clean, and the Charles Bernstein score is both atmospheric and menacing, it really amps up when the "thrasher" attack theme is cranked. Optional English subtitles are provided. 

As where both the Anchor Bay and Eureka Blu-ray releases were bare bones Umbrella come through with some exclusive extras, we get a half-hour interview with composer and Charles Bernstein (A Nightmare on Elm Street) who speaks at length bout the process of scoring the film, including building the "thrasher" attack theme.  Strangely actor Robert MacNaughton (E.T.) shows up for a three-minute interview speaking about auditioning for a role in the film and not getting it, but how Barbara Hershey was instrumental in him landing the gig on E.T. with Stephen Spielberg. 

The single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in the usual over-sized Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring new artwork, the reverse side features a variant of the same artwork minus the rating label, and the disc features the same key art. While this release is labeled as a region B locked release but I am pleased to say that, if not region-free, it plays on region A players just fine! 

Special Features: 
- Finding a Voice: A Conversation with composer Charles Bernstein (34 min) 
- Robert McNaughton Remembers The Entity (3 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- Poster and Stills Gallery (2 min) 
- Reversible Sleeve of Artwork 

I love this spectral-terror thriller, it's a weird one, 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. There are a few cheesy moments, but this is still a harrowing supernatural tale, and Barbara Hershey plays it to the hilt without going over-the-top. The Blu-ray from Umbrella has very good A/V and it's great finally have at least some new extras, if you're a fan of the film this is the one to get.