Friday, September 30, 2011

Blu-ray Review: CINEMA PARADISO (1989)

LABEL: Lionsgate
RELEASE DATE: October 4th 2011
DURATON: 124 mins
VIDEO: MPEG-4 AVC 1080p 16:9 Widescreen (1.66:1)
AUDIO: Italian Mono DTS-HD MA with Englisg and Spanish Subtitles
DIRECTOR: Giuseppe Tornatore
CAST: Philippe Noiret, Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Jacques Perrin, Antonella Attili, Pupella Maggio, Agnese Nano, Leopoldo Trieste
TAGLINE: A celebration of youth, friendship, and the everlasting magic of the movies.

Giuseppe Tornatore's 1988 Italian film NUOVO CINEMA PARADISO was originally released in an 174 min theatrical cut but was trimmed to a more manageable and better received 124 min for it's international release under the title CINEMA PARADISO. It was this cut that I caught a 35mm screening of in the early 90's while living in Ithaca, NY. The screening was at the small Cinemapolis theatre on the Ithaca Commons. Not yet in my twenties, and coming off a decade of 80's horror devotion, this screening gave birth to my love of arthouse and foreign cinema which at this point weren't part of my cinematic vocabulary. My new found interest was fed all that year by the aforementioned Cinemapolis and Fall Creek Pictures who were not only my entry point to Tornatore's CINEMA PARADISO, but Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's DELICATESSAN, Jaco Van Dormael's TOTO LE HEROS (1991), Gabriele Salvatores' MEDITERRANEO and Krzysztof Kieslokowski's THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE (1991) plus an American indie film that remarkably still has no DVD release 20 years later, KAFKA (1991), Steven Soderbergh's follow-up to SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (1989).

CINEMA PARADISO opens in Italy sometime in the 1980's. Film director Salvatore De Vita (Jacques Perrin, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF) returns home and is informed that his mother has telephoned with news that someone named Alfredo has passed away. Salvatore, who has not returned to the village of his birth for 30 years, flashes back to his childhood during WWII and recalls the formative years of his life and a friendship with an crusty, though kind-hearted, theatre projectionist named Alfredo who imparted to him a love of cinema.

We are then transported to 1940's Sicily via flashbacks as only the magic of cinema can. We meet Salvatore at the age of six, he's a precocious little scamp who keeps his mother on her toes, he definitely a handful of mischievous energy. Consumed by an interest in film he spends most of his time at the Cinema Paradiso, a theatre at the heart of the town square. It is here that he befriends the projectionist Alfredo (Philippe Noiret, Fellini's THREE BROTHERS) who begrudgingly lets the boy hang out in the projection booth with him. Through a series of montages we are introduced to the townsfolk who gather nightly to watch the moving images and they are a colorful cast of small town characters. Father Adelfio (Salvatore Cascio, THE WHITE SHEIK) dutifully approves each film before public viewing at weekly screenings in which he censors scenes of intimacy that he deems immoral, he does so by sounding a bell which cues Alfredo to mark the scenes and cut them from the reel, the decades of naughty nitrate litter the projection booth. During viewings of the film the townsfolk can be heard to register complaints, one man objecting, "I've been going to the movies for twenty years and I never saw a kiss!". The entire village is enraptured by the moving images, it's an idealized cinephile vision of small town life and while the film is sometimes critiqued for being overly sentimental and emotionally manipulative I thinks it's rather quite wonderful.

At first Alfredo's disposition towards the Salvatore is one of annoyance but he recognizes his love of cinema and takes him under his wing teaching him to operate the projector, edit and splice film and change reels. The two form a father-son relationship, it's a wonderful portrayal. In a tragic turn of events the highly flammable nitrate film catches fire and a blast of flame from the projector cruelly takes Alfredo's sight. The theatre is a complete loss but it is given a new lease on life when a man named Ciccio, who recently won the lottery, resurrects the theatre as Nouvo Cinema Paradiso. In an admittedly unlikely turn of events Ciccio hires the adolescent Salvatore as the theatre's new projectionist. With the introduction of non-combustible film stock a few years later Alfredo ponders "progress, always comes late."

Alfredo and Toto's friendship continues through the years and as Salvatore matures into a young man, now played by Marco Leonardi (LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE), he finds himself coming to Alfredo for advice when he loses his heart to a young beauty by the name of Elena (Agnese Nano), the daughter of a wealthy banker who frowns upon a peasant boy courting his daughter of privilege. At the height of their romance Salvatore is required to serve his compulsory military service and the two lose touch when Elena's family settles elsewhere. Returning to the Sicily following his service Alfredo urges the young man to leave the village, to return to Rome where he can pursue his dreams. Salvatore is hesitant to do so but Alfredo make him swear to never return, to not look back and not give in to sentimentality. Alfredo tells Salvatore "Whatever you end up doing, love it. The way you loved the projection booth when you were a little squirt". It's a promise he keeps but upon returning to the village 30 years later Salvatore is overcome with regret at the decision.

During the funeral procession Salvatore sees so many familiar faces from his youth, he's overcome with feelings of nostalgia and regret. Later Alfredo's widow tells Salvatore how proud her late husband was of him, that following his career as a film director was a source of great pride for the elderly man. She gives him a box, inside it a film reel. Upon returning to Rome Salvatore screens the reel to discover that Alfredo has spliced together a compendium of what amounts to the greatest romance scenes of cinema cut from films over the years at the behest of Father Adelfio. He watches as tears of bittersweet joy stream from his face, basking in the glory of cinema and overwhelmed by emotion.

As a teen I found this film so incredibly moving, it was overwhelming. Never had I seen a film that carried with it so much love for the cinema or such passion for filmmaking. Revisiting it again 20 years later it still carries that same weight and then some. With a few years under my belt, a family of my own and my love for film grown, the film resonates deeper and stronger than ever. Much like director Giuseppe Tornatore's nostalgia for the cinema of his youth I find it difficult not to similarly gush over CINEMA PARADISO - it is simply a thing beauty.

In the longer theatrical version of the film the relationship between the younger Salvatore and Elena is fleshed out a bit more. When he returns to Sicily 30 years later he encounters a young girl whom bares an uncanny resemblance to his lost love. Through her he is reunited with Elena and attempts to rekindle their romance. The reunion scenes add some extra depth and poignancy to the proceedings plus there's a revelation involving Alfredo's involvement in their break-up which adds yet another level of bitter sweetness to the film's finale. Without disavowing the international cut I would definitely recommend a viewing of the theatrical cut.

BLU-RAY:The Lionsgate Blu-ray represents the 124 minute International Version of the film presented in 16:9 widescreen (1.66:1) and the film looks gorgeous. Easily surpassing previous DVD editions with a warm transfer from a fine print with a layer of natural film grain. The print offers some white speckling throughout but otherwise it's in very fine form. Colors are vibrant, skin tones are natural and the black levels run deep with an abundance of fine detail resolving textures and facial features like never before. Having just viewed Umbrella Entertainment's region FREE Blu-ray I would say they're quite similar in terms of PQ with perhaps a bit more depth coming from the Lionsgate edition.

The only audio option is Italian Mono DTS-HD MA with optional English and Spanish subtitles. Dialogue and effects are crisp and clear but obviously not overly dynamic considering the limitations of the mono track. Ennio Morricone's transportative score still comes through quite brilliantly. The Umbrella release featured an Italian DTS-HD 51. track which subtly utilized the surrounds immersing viewers in Morricone's gorgeous score which is missed here but the 2.0 lossless audio sounds great for what it is. 

As for bonus content there's not much, only the Theatrical Trailer (1:38), a selection of Lionsgate trailers and the option to bookmark chapters which could come in handy, it's a lengthy film even in it's truncated International cut. The Arrow Video Region B locked Blu-ray features over an hour of bonus content and I would love to see a future  Blu-ray that incorporates new features in the way of commentary, interviews and featurettes. C'mon now folks this film won an Academy Award so let's give it some due respect. At the very least I would expect a branching version of the 173 minute Director's Cut which from what I know is only available here in the US on the now OOP Buena Vista Miramax Classic DVD. Would also love a comprehensive audio presentation sporting DTS-HD mono, stereo and surround mixes.

- Theatrical Trailer (1:38) 4:3
- Bookmark Option

VERDICT: CINEMA PARADISO is a gorgeous love letter to a bygone era of cinema and to the glory of independent movie house that's swollen to perfection with nostalgia and sentimentality. A powerful film that nurtured my own passion for cinema at a particularly influential period in my life. I give this the highest recommendation possible and would easily place it alongside CHINATOWN, BLUE VELVET, THE THIRD MAN and TOUCH OF EVIL as one of my most treasured films. A MUST BUY from start to finish.

*Apologies and thanks to the folks at for stealing screen caps.

Thursday, September 29, 2011



LABEL: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
DURATON: 97 mins
VIDEO: Fullscreen (1.33:1)
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital Stereo
DIRECTOR: Stuart Gordon
CAST: Lance Henriksen, Rona De Ricci, Jonathan Fuller, Jeffrey Combs, Tom Towels, Stephen Lee, Frances Bay, Oliver Reed
TAGLINE: A Bizarre Descent Into Hell from the Creator of Re-Animator

In the year 1492 the Spanish Inquisition is in full swing under the unrelenting direction of Torquemada (Lance Henriksen, NEAR DARK). Old Torque is the Grand Inquisitor of Spain and he's reaping a swath of terror forcing tortured confessions from suspected blasphemers by the thousands. A sweet pre-credit sequence bares witness to the outrageous act of Torquemada unearthing the dried up corpse of a blasphemer and whipping the withered carcass until it falls to pieces. The bones are then ground into fine dust and placed into an over-sized hour glass. It's over-the-top, and while you're recovering from that nasty bit of business cue a pretty fantastic Richard Band (TERRORVISION, RE-ANIMATOR) score and prepare for some dark and lurid religious persecution from Charles Band's Full Moon Entertainment and the 80's Master of Horror Stuart Gordon

A simple baker named Antonio (Jonathan Fuller, CASTLE FREAK) and his amorous young wife Maria (Rona De Ricci) make their way to the city center to sell their bread when they come upon a boisterous crowd gathered to witness the auto de fe, the whipping of a suspected witch. When the woman's son is brought forth to be punished Maria cannot bare to remain silent and speaks out against the cruelty of the Church which raises the ire of the Inquisitor and his priests, she is falsely accused of witchcraft and imprisoned.

When brought before the Inquisitor she is stripped nude, humiliated and searched for the "devil's mark", when none are found one is imagined, 'natch. During the examination Torquemada is overwhelmed with lustful desire for the young woman, naturally, she's quite stunning. Par for the course for the overly pious he cannot own up to his own sinful desires and assumes the attraction is the result of witchcraft, his lust proving to be her damnation. She's tossed in a prison cell alongside an old woman named Esmeralda played by Frances Bay (WILD AT HEART) who is one of the greatest old lady actresses you will ever see, right up there with Cloris Leachman (YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN). The hag just so happens to be a confessed witch though more of the Wicca variety than the eye of newt cauldron boiler.

Antonio desperate to rescue the woman he loves infiltrates the impenetrable castle walls with the help of Torquemada's henchmen Gomez (Stephen Lee, DOLLS) only to be betrayed, imprisoned and tortured before his wife's eyes in an attempt to force her own confession. The torture in the film is pretty effective, we have water torture, the rack, whippings, impalement and a new contraption that Torquemada unleashes upon Antonio which gives the film it's name, a spike-laden pit and the razor sharp pendulum.

Torquemada as played by Henriksen is a tortured soul who is truly a sight to behold with his skull cap and craggy face really cranking up the inner turmoil of a man in service to the Lord who is so clearly corrupted by desires of the flesh. Henriksen throws in just the right amount of camp into the performance, it's a thin line but he really sells it without teetering off the deep end, great stuff. Also putting forth great performances are Jonathan Fuller as the desperate husband and Stuart Gordon regular Jeffrey Combs (CASTLE FREAK, FROM BEYOND) as Torquemada's snivelling records keeper who logs confessions into a ledger, it's not a huge part but his presence throughout the film was appreciated.

The cash-strapped production makes great use of an existing centuries old castle. Obviously a film of limited means the set design and decoration is sparse but effective. The interiors are dark, dank, full of cobwebs and skeletal remains which really amp up the atmosphere as does the great period costuming.

There's a chance gore-fiends may be disappointed that the grue is not in abundance but Stuart Gordon, whose known for some classic splatter in film like the RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND, applies his touch effectively and with moderation using low-budget techniques to great effect. Even without rampant bloodletting the torture scenes made me squirm in my seat, when the water torture is applied  to a victim the gurgled choking sounds brought up the goose flesh on my neck as did Torquemada jamming his index fingers through the fresh crucifixion wounds of another and twisting.

The one aspect of the film that didn't work for me was the witch Esmeralda training Maria to tap into her inner-power - whatever that is, which more fully emerges during the film's finale. It felt under developed and just didn't work for me but it's not ruinous to the film either, so no harm no foul. Two scenes that completely knocked my socks off were the final confrontation between Torquemada and Antonio, it's action-packed, tense and full of blood-thirsty rats plus the titular pit and pendulum, of course. On par with that is Esmeralda's death scene as she is carted off the be burned at the stake she consumes mass quantities of gunpowder from a keg that conveniently just happens to be nearby. She stuffs herself with the combustible powder and when she's burning alive at the stake cursing the gathered onlookers she explodes, injuring dozens with bone-shrapnel, brilliant.   

DVD: Full Moon Entertainment have a long history of poor DVD presentation and this Echo Bridge Entertainment licensed release will do little to dissuade that perception. While advertised widescreen on the DVD case it is in fact a fullframe presentation and likely the same master from the previous OOP DVD edition. It's a dirty washed out print on par with a VHS release cursed with rampant noise and compression issues, very shallow with no depth and fuzziness in lieu of fine detail. Audio consists of English language Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo that likewise is unremarkable in all respects with no subtitles. While the audio and PQ leaves much to be desired I'm pleased to see the film back on DVD and in the hands of fans. A nifty bonus is that the film comes with a digital copy that can be played on mp3 device and PC's.

VERDICT: Easily one of the finest films in the Full Moon canon with a juicy performance from Lance Henriksen who tears it up as the twisted Inquisitor, this may just be my favorite Henriksen film and should it be mentioned in the same breath as NEAR DARK and ALIENS in my opinion. I give this a high recommend, a must-own. With THE PUPPET MASTER and SUBSPECIES making their way to Blu-ray I would love to see THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM get an brand new restored 1080p HD upgrade. Charles Band, if you're reading this please make it happen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Blu-ray Review: DEAD ALIVE (1992)

LABEL: Lionsgate
RELEASE DATE: October 4th 2011
DURATION:97 mins
RATING: Unrated
VIDEO: MPEG-4 AVC 1080p Anamorphic Widescreen (1.66:1)
AUDIO: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
CAST: Timothy Balme, Diane Penalver, Elizabeth Moody
TAGLINE: Some things won't stay down... even after they die.

Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE which is known as BRAINDEAD pretty much everywhere else in the world outside the U.S. is the puke-inducing follow-up to his incredibly strange comedies BAD TASTE and MEET THE FEEBLES. It is regarded as one of the goriest fright films of all-time and I'll certainly not dispute that fact, this is a gore-tastic masterpiece, the stuff cult classics are made of.

The film's pre-credit sequence opens on Skull Island (a place Jackson would revisit with KING KONG) as an intrepid explorer collecting live specimens for a zoo makes a hasty retreat with cage in hand from depths of the island towards the coast, fierce island natives nipping at his heels. The origins of the native's dismay? That the poor man's Indiana Jones is absconding with a vile simian creature known as the Sumatran Rat-Monkey, a creature that according to legend was spawned when plague rats escaping a sinking slave ship arrived on the island and raped the island's tree-monkey population - what's not to love? Stewart makes his way to an awaiting Jeep but during the commotion he is bitten and scratched by the rat-monkey. The guides on this expedition notice the bite mark on his hand and immediately pin him to the ground hacking off his right hand with a machete. Then they notice a bite mark on his left arm - WHACK! His upper torso nearly limbless is a pitiful sight to behold but the worse is yet to come when a scratch is sighted on his forehead - yup, that's it for him - CHOP! Cue his dying scream and roll opening credits. Alright, we've got a splatter-classic on our hand here folks.

Suddenly we find ourselves in picturesque Wellington, New Zealand in the year 1957. Wellington is the epitome of a quiet, conservative 50's community in every respect. Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme, PLANET MAN) is a sadly aloof young man domineered by his mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody, HEAVENLY CREATURES). It's painful how completely he's lorded over by the maternal nightmare, but her control over the weak-willed lad is threatened when Lionel falls head over heels for a pretty shopkeeper named Paquita (Diana Penalver, BENEATH STILL WATERS) and don't think for a moment that his meddlesome mum will abide it quietly. She immediately sets out to sabotage the spark of romance before it can ignite into flames of passion and stalks the two love birds to the Zoo where she hides in the bushes along a cage containing what else? The Sumatran Rat-Monkey which was shipped to Wellington following the pre-credit events. While she skulks in the shadows that rat-monkey takes a chunk of flesh from her arm and the blue-haired hag maddened at the indignity of being bitten by the foul vermin squashes it with the heel of her pumps, it's a gruesome display as blood and brains ooze forth from it's eye-sockets. Ever the dedicated son Lionel rushes to her aid when she screams out in pain, taking her home treating and bandaging her nasty wound.

The next day the wound only worsens becoming a pulsing mass of gooey grossness, she's develops mouth sores and liesons and is just not looking good in any respect. Despite her worsening state she refuses medical attention and when the president of the Ladies Welfare League Mrs. Matheson arrives with her husband in tow for tea and biscuits she rises to the occasion albeit with her flesh literally falling from her face, held in place with strong adhesive. During the luncheon Vera starts to turn a bit more ghoulish before her guests very eyes leading to some awesome gross-out visuals. While custard is being served the ripe pustule on her arm ruptures squirting a thick ropey spray of puss into Mr. Matheson's dessert which he unwittingly consumes exclaiming "Mmm... rich and creamy, just the way I like it." Definitely some bad taste awesomeness that's hurl inducing. Vera's own ear rots right off her face falling into her bowl of custard which she eats with some difficulty just before falling unconscious face first into her dessert, fun stuff. In the annals of gross-out cinema this entire scene is pretty damn high on the list.

With Vera's zombie-fication nearly complete she scarfs down Paquita's pet pooch Fernando resulting in Lionel shoving his fist down her throat and pulling out the nastiest hairball you've ever seen. The progressively carnivorous act forces the ever-caring Lionel to keep her locked in the basement and sedated with a strong animal tranquilizer which he acquires illegally from a vet whom surely is an escaped Nazi scientist. There he keeps and cares for her unbeknownst to Paquita but despite his best efforts mum escapes and is soon consuming the quaint folk of Wellington turning them into flesh-crazed zombies, too. Lionel dutifully gathers the wayward zombies and stashes them in the basement along with mum away from the prying eyes of neighbors, tethering them to the dinner table and spoon feeding them. When his sleazy Uncle Les arrives on scene smelling filthy estate lucre it gets harder to keep the secret under wraps. As things continue to spin wildly out of control Lionel, Paquita and Les find themselves holed up at his house immersed in a grisly zombie siege that will either make you puke from laughter or laugh until you spew chunks from your nostrils.

At it's heart Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE is the timeless tale of boy meets girl, boy's mom meets rat-monkey, boy mows down hordes of zombies with a re-purposed lawnmower, you know, that old chestnut. The storytelling is here and gets perhaps a bit too melodramatic at times but it's buried under a ton of awesome gore effects that don't disappoint, and like many of the classic splatter flicks of the 80's the effects hold up quite remarkably for the most part. There's reanimated intestines, dozen of distinctive zombies, hundreds of sight gags, gallons upon gallons of glorious blood, a claymation rat-monkey, rib cages ripped from torsos, the skin pulled off a face like a dirty tube sock and old Vera shoving her son back into her womb only for him to finally tear himself free of her maternal shackles in a very Freudian manner as he emerges a through a hot pile of motherly effluence. The effects are of the blood-drenched old school practical variety and are too numerous to recount and too awesome to properly describe, it's just pure carnage and when Lionel takes on an insurmountable mob of zombies with a re purposed lawnmower it just don't get any better.

Aside from the phenomenal gore we get strong performances from leads Timothy Balme and Diane Penalver there are distinctly memorable performances in abundance; the kung-fu priest Father McGruder (Stuart Devente), pervy Uncle Les (Ian Watkins) and the low-life greaser Void (Jed Brophy).

In 1992 if you had told me that the mad genius behind the demented lunacy of MEET THE FEEBLES, BAD TASTE and DEAD ALIVE would go onto helm THE LORD OF THE RINGS and KING KONG I probably would have thought you silly in the head. That said, there's a lot of Jackson's talent onscreen here and not just of the knee-deep-in-gore variety.

BLU-RAY:DEAD ALIVE makes its high definition debut just in time for Halloween in what's being touted by Lionsgate as the 20th Anniversary Edition. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with a MPEG-4AVC encode that looks to have been sourced from the same master as the previous TriMark DVD from some years ago. The film definitely benefits from the higher resolution resulting in finer detail, deeper black levels and more pronounced color saturation but it is also a bit dirty, mighty grainy and white speckling is present throughout. The close-ups reveal more texture in the faces and the make-up effects, plus we see more gore than ever before, no doubt, but this isn't going to be the spleen-busting upgrade that you may have been hoping for.

The lone audio option is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 stereo track that that's kinda flat and doesn't offer much in the way of channel separation. Also included are option English SDH and Spanish subtitles. While it definitely isn't gonna give your fancy surround sound home theatre a workout it's adequate and comes through clearer and with a spot more depth than the previous DVD edition.

The lone special features are the Original Theatrical Trailer (1:49) and a selection of Lionsgate trailer. Just like the TriMark DVD this is unrated but not the 104 min. original cut of the film but Peter Jackson's preferred version at 97 mins.. While I appreciate having this splatter classic in the glory of 1080p I cannot help but feel it could have been more glorious. A newly minted HD transfer, some minor restoration and a newly created DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound mix could have done this wonders. As for the paltry bonus content a newly commissioned featurette, a Peter Jackson commentary, some interviews, a branching version of the original cut or just the addition of the excised seven minutes of film would truly be fitting of this gore-tastic classics's 20th anniversary.

- Original Theatrical Trailer (1:49)

VERDICT: When it comes to gore-comedies few are as pickled in the briny stew of blood, guts and splatstick as DEAD ALIVE. The film's a tried and true rite of passage for horror fans that's easily on par with Saim Raimi's EVIL DEAD 2. I have some minor quibbles with the presentation and supplements that could have been improved upon but honestly it's superior to the DVD in every way. What I have to ask myself is that if I hadn't received this screener would I have bought it knowing what I do now? The answer is unequivocally yes, why? It's fucking Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE on Blu-ray, the most gut-drenched black comedy ever filmed and that's not just hyperbole.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011



LABEL: Synapse Films
RATING: Unrated
DURATION: 116 mins
VIDEO: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital 5.1
DIRECTOR: Alex Pucci
CAST: Rane Jameson, Chris Prangley, Jon Fleming, Niki Rubin

FRAT HOUSE MASSACRE is a retro-revenge-exploitation film with slasher elements set in the year 1978, a very fine year indeed for slasher films. Sean (Chris Prangley) is a proud member of the Delta Iota Epsilon (ΔIE) fraternity at Newcombe University. He's super-excited (maybe too much so) that his younger brother Bobby (Rane Jameson, SKULL HEADS) has just graduated high school and plans to attend Newcombe and pledge Delta Iota Epsilon but when Bobby falls into a coma following a car accident Sean returns to school and ΔIE without the camaraderie of his brother.

Back at the ΔIE fraternity house we meet the coked-out frat president Mark (Jon Fleming of TVs WILL AND GRACE) who presides over a series of brutal cocaine and alcohol fueled hazing rituals which usually end in the death of freshman pledges who are then fed to ravenous pigs at an out of the way farm. It really made me wonder why Sean was so juiced about his bro joining the frat in the first place. Well, it seems not everyone in the frat is aware of the murderous hazing rituals and when Sean voices concern over the "missing" pledges the frat officers stage his demise, drowning him in a waterfall of alcohol and feeding his corpse to the sows.

At the very moment Sean exhales his final breath younger brother Bobby suddenly awakens from his months long coma and has the urge to attend his now missing brother's fraternity in an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery. Bobby quickly works his way up the ranks of ΔIE demonstrating his propensity for violence which pleases frat president Mark and his sadistic entourage. It's not long before frat house officers are being dispatched in grisly fashion nearly as quickly as freshman pledges are reported "missing" leading to a blood-soaked disco-themed frat party that truly earns the film it's title. The disco scenes are PROM NIGHT worthy, garishly fun stuff. The film's not hard to predict, but there's a nice twist at the end of the film.

There's some great dark humor throughout the film of the blackest variety, definitely a biting send-up of Greek culture and the stereotypical frat boy mentality. We get some awesomely bad frat-guy sex talk ("it hurts!", "Cuz I'm so fucking big, right?", "No, it's your pelvic bone") from a guy named "Moose" who hold his hands to his head to emulate his namesake at the moment of his creamy climax and there's a pervy frat guy who peeps his Greek brothers sexual conquests while he beats off, the sexuality in the film is quite perverse.

The film has a supernatural element and definite slasher tendencies but what the film really excels at is the exploration of frat culture, exaggerated though it may be, the twisted depravity of fraternity hazing at it's most extreme is being exploited to it's fullest with brutal hazings, savage beatings, a FIGHT CLUB styled tournament and two pledges whom are gassed with a caustic chemical in the shower while the frat howls with glee from outside the stall as they they die in agony, very harsh. The DVD case claims the film is purportedly based on actual events and while I cannot confirm this it's not outside the realm of reality.

The film is front loaded with some fun  gore and tons of nubile co-eds leaving nothing to our imagination. On the other side there's no shortage of strapping young men, the film definitely has some none too subtle homoerotic leanings. I guess it would be hard-pressed not to with so many scenes of beefcake frat boys gathered in the basement hazing nearly naked and vulnerable pledges, it's almost a forgone conclusion and that's before we see one of 'em beating off to the other's sexual conquests. 

Set in the late-70's the film has a very cool retro-slasher aesthetic that should please most fans of the genre, a very authentic vibe with great attention to detail. There's none of that faux grindhouse digital print damage we've seen so much of over the past few years, just naturally grainy 16mm film. I was reminded of Ti West's THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL in the best possible way. I didn't notice any glaring anachronistic foibles so good on Pucci and his crew for pulling that off, I wasn't taken out of the film once.

The acting is pretty decent with standout performances from Niki Rubin (ZOMBIES ANONYMOUS) as the promiscuous girlfriend of the lunkheaded Moose who in one of my favorite scenes pleads with the frat guys not to stop a sexed-up prank against a doomed pledge until she comes, very funny. Rane Jameson as the vengeful brother Bobby also turns in a very solid performance. I would point out that there aren't a ton of sympathetic characters here to root for, everyone is pretty much a bastard to some degree, so much the better to cheer their demise.

I have to say that the few qualms I have with the film are few but not insubstantial. The first is the length of the film. At nearly two hours the film has some real pacing issues and needed some tightening-up, in my opinion the perfect slasher film falls within the 88-93 minute mark, that goes for horror in general. That said this is the director's cut of the film containing over twenty minutes of additional footage, it's quite likely the theatrical cut may have run a bit smoother. Secondly, the kills are a bit redundant, while we get a mix of some cool practical prosthetic work it does get a bit repetitive after a while, particularly at nearly two hours. That said, there's some great stabbings, slashings, axings, a pitchfork through the face, a de-braining, some Fulci-esque eye gouging and a gore-riffic bifurcation, not too shabby.

DVD: Presented in anamorphic widecreen (1.78:1) the transfer of the film looks very good, if not overly sharp. The film having been shot on 16mm has a grainy appearance that is both appropriate and aesthetically pleasing. Colors look good, black levels are decent, skin tones look natural and there's not much in the way of print damage to discuss other than the occasional speck. The film grain is present but never a nuisance, very natural and film like in it's presentation. The lone audio option is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track and it's a pretty good one, too. For better or worse there's a pumping disco beat throughout the film courtesy of Claudio Simonetti of GOBLIN  notoriety who scored some of Dario Argento's most iconic films with similarly iconic electro-rock scores. While not saying this is up there with TENEBRE or SUSPIRIA it's an effervescent score.

Bonus content consists of two audio commentaries, one with director Alex Pucci and writer Draven Gonzales while the other features various cast members. Both tracks are fun listens and speak to the trials, tribulations and love of a low-budget horror production. There's also Deleted Scenes (20:52) which add something to the overall picture but were wisely excised from a film that still nears the two hour mark as it were. Making of Frat House Massacre (14:13) features interviews with cast and crew plus some behind the scenes footage. Overall, a nice array of bonus content for this indie slasher.

- Audio Commentary with director Alex Pucci and writer Draven Gonzales
- Cast Audio Commentary
- Deleted Scenes (20:52) 4:3 Letterboxed
- Making Of FRAT HOUSE MASSACRE Featurette (14:33) 4:3

VERDICT: I have a few qualms with duration of the film and the variety of kills but otherwise this is a fun retro 70's revenge exploitation film with some nice slasher elements, just the right amount of perverse sexuality, a decent set-up and a truly killer finale rife with blood, guts and a nice twist. A definite recommend for those looking for a retro-revenge flick with sick charm to spare.

Friday, September 23, 2011

DVD Review: HARDWARE (1991)

HARDWARE (1990) 
LABEL: Umbrella Entertainment
RATING: 18 Certificate
DURATION: 93 mins
VIDEO: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital 5.1. 2.0
DIRECTOR: Richard Stanley
CAST: Dylan McDermott, Iggy pop, Stacey Travis, Carl McCoy
TAGLINE: You Can't Stop Progress.

Auteur filmmaker Richard Stanley's feature film debut is a stone cold sci-fi cult classic actioner set in the dismal post-apocalyptic 21st century. A desolate place where the world's governments seem to have made good on their DR. STRANGELOVE-ian promise to reduce the world to a nuclear scarred wasteland. Survivors eek out a gritty existence in squalid, over populated city slums foraging the red-tinted radioactive wastelands for scrap metal. One such scavenger or "zone-tripper" (Carl McCoy, of Goth rockers FIELDS OF NEPHILIM) recovers the battle worn skull of a cyborg buried in the sands dunes of the forbidden outlands. He takes his unique haul to the pint-sized scrap dealer Alvy (Mark Northover, WILLOW) where he encounters Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermot, HAMBURGER HILL), a weary soldier returning from a tour of duty, his right hand lost to the ravages of war, a metal-gloved prosthetic in it's place. Both he and friend Shades (John Lynch, BLACK DEATH) are at Alvy's shop when the "zone tripper" arrives with the recovered cyborg skull along with other assorted parts. Intrigued by the skull Moses compensates the scavenger for the parts which appear to come from an unusually well-crafted labor drone. Moses brings the skull to his metal-sculpter girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis, PHANTASM II) to incorporate into he latest project.

Reuiniting with Jill at their apartment they make love (under the watchful eye of twisted voyeur) and discuss the possibility of starting a family but it's a sore subject. Jill fears bringing a child into a post-apocalyptic world ("it's stupid, sadistic and suicidal to have children right now") and worries that years of exposure to nuclear fallout may breed mutant offspring. In the background we hear news reports that the government is soon to pass legislation geared towards making "a clean break from procreation" while radio DJ Angry Bob (voiced by proto-punker Iggy Pop) screams nihilistic noise into the mic ("Kill! Kill! Kill! Today's death count is 578!"). Richard Stanley's film does a pretty decent job of creating a post-apocalyptic landscape through cyberpunk visuals, dystopian TV and radio news broadcasts and shots of overcrowded city slums. It's a modestly budgeted feature but the world building onscreen is quite effective.

Later that night Moses receives an urgent call from Alvy insisting he return to the scrap yard, that he has urgent information but the phone lines have too many ears to divulge it. Alvy intrigued by the android design has discovered that the parts are not from any ordinary drone but from the M.A.R.K 13 military program aimed to create an unstoppable mechanical combat droid capable of artificial intelligence and self-regeneration. Before Alvy can relay the information he is killed by a reactivated piece of the droid left behind, which injects hims with a deadly hallucinogenic toxin. Moses arrives discovering his corpse but is able to piece together the information from design plans and Alvy's PC screen. Alarmed that Jill is in danger he phones Shades who lives nearby but unfortunately hopelessly spaced out in an acid induced daze muttering nonsense ("It's my heart... it feels like an alligator"). With his tripped-out pal hopefully on his way to warn Jill the panicked Mo makes a mad dash to the apartment, but he is slowed down by some MAD MAX styled street punks.

Sure 'nuff the M.A.R.K 13 has reassembled itself using it's own parts, pieces of Jill's metal sculpture and then recharges itself using the apartments computer network. Once fully functional it attempts to cut Jill in half with a buzz saw blade while she sleeps but she awakens at the last possible moment, escaping it's first assault. The crafy cyborg takes up hiding in her apartment just as the pervy neighbor Lincoln (William Hootkins, BATMAN), who is obsessed with Jill after many a night sweatily (and one-handedly) peeping her through a telescope, arrives to offer his assistance having noticed some strange goings on from his perch. He creepily helps her search the apartment for the killer bot while bizarrely singing a song called "Wibberly-Wobberly" but the M.A.R.K 13 is nowhere to be found. The sleazy voyeur is about to be ushered out the door when he notices that the window shades have been drawn, blocking his telescopic view, a perv until the end. As he approaches the window to draw the shades the bio-mechanical cyborg assassin reveals itself and just totally destroys him; injecting him with the deadly toxin, gouging his eyeballs from his skull while a phallic drillbit tears through his torso and repeatedly slamming his head into the floor, this thing ain't fucking around, it's a vicious death 

Alone again with the cyborg Jill finds that she is unable to escape her apartment because the M.A.R.K 13 has hacked her security system and she's left with little choice but to face the unstoppable cyborg which stalks her slasher style through the apartment. Eventually Shades and Moses show up along with the apartment's goofy security staff who are able to break their way inside but one of the security staff is grotesquely severed in half by the apartment's security door, his gun going off shooting the other guard in the face leaving a very-stoned Shades and a desperate Moses to devise a solution to a worsening situation, it's a total cluster fuck.

The film's finale is completely out of control and reads like the final reel of THE TERMINATOR as filmed by INFERNO era Dario Argento with strobing lights, dark shadows bathed in saturated red and blue lighting and non-stop psychedelic cyberpunk action. Actress Stacey Travis (GHOSTWORLD) really centers the film standing in for Sarah Connor as a frantic but feisty heroine with McDermot ast the ill-fated Kyle Reese character.  HARDWARE was Richard Stanley's feature film debut following a series of shorts, documentaries and music videos and is based on a comic called 'SHOK! Walter's Robo-Tale' which I've not seen but apparently the creators took legal action against the film at some point to receive proper recognition for their work. Stanley next film was the more esoteric DUST DEVIL, a fantastic dreamy South African horror film following the exploits of a shape-shifting demon spirit. Following DUST DEVIL he wrote the screenplay and was to direct the big budget adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel 'The Island of Dr. Moreau' only to be fired from the project four days into filming. I can't help but wonder what his finished film would have been like knowing how awesomely terrible director John Frankenheimer's ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU ended up being following a script re-write. Stanley returned to documentary filmmaking the decade following but the 2000's have seen him return to scripted cinema with a few short films including SEA OF PERDITION (included as a special feature on this disc), a werewolf short BLACK TULIPS and most recently the segment MOTHER OF TOADS from Severin Film's THE THEATRE BIZARRE anthology film which I look forward to checking out as soon as possible.  

DVD: HARDWARE is presented in anamorphic widescreen in it's original aspect ration of 1.85:1 with only minor print damage that betrays the occasional white speck and rare instance of printdamage. Otherwise it's a very nice looking print and the transfer offers a healthy amount of natural grain with decent black levels, color saturation and accurate skin tones. Audio options include English Dobly Digital 5.1 surround sound  or 2.0 stereo. It's a very clean audio presentation with well balanced sound, clear dialogue and without any noticeable snap, crackles or pops. The industrial-rock soundtrack sounds magnificent with contributions from MINISTRY, PUBLIC IMAGE LTD plus a very fine score by composer Simon Boswelll who's name you'll may recognize from from Argento's PHENOMNA, Lamberto Bava's DEMONS 2 and Alejandro Jodorowsky's SANTA SANGRE amon others.

Special features include an audio commentary with director Richard Stanley and producer Paul Trijbits. Stanley regularly voices displeasure over producer interference on the film, it's not an overwhelmingly positive track but it makes for a good listen. It should be noted that the commentary is different than the track featured on Severin Film's Region 1 HARDWARE DVD and Blu-ray. Something I was keen to hear was mention of the SHOK! lawsuit but it's not to be found here, unfortunately. We get a selection of deleted scenes including some behind-the-scenes footage and extended scenes which look like they've been sourced from a VHS tape.

The real treasure here are the short films of director Richard Stanley, four in all totalling over 95 minutes. THE VOICE OF THE MOON (1990) is an experimental super 8mm documentary on the Russian Invasion of Afghanistan which completely glazed over my eyes. Quite the opposite is Stanley's fantastic sci-fi short SEA OF PERDITION (2006). Too short! I wanted more of this one, certainly a film that makes me wish someone would throw some major cash Stanley's way, great stuff. An interesting document of Stanley early films is the 8mm relic RITES OF PASSAGE (1983) which features a suicidal man remembering his past life as a primitive man, weird but compelling, which you can say about a lot of the director's work. The last film is what I consider the centerpiece of the bonus content on the disc;  INCIDENT IN AN EXPANDING UNIVERSE (1985) an 8mm precursor to HARDWARE containing many of the elements and themes of the latter film, the presentation is a bit rough but it's a nice compliment to the film.

- Audio Commentary with director and producer
- THE VOICE OF THE MOON documentary by Richard Stanley (32:25) 4:3
- Richard Stanley Sci-Fi-short SEA OF PERDITION (8:32) 16:9
- Super 8 Short Film RITES OF PASSAGE (9:49) 4:3
- Super 8 Short Film INCIDENTS IN AN EXPANDING UNIVERSE (44:28) 4:3
- Deleted Scenes, Extended and Behind the Scenes Clips (25:02) 4:3
- Original Hardware Promo (3:22) 4:3

VERDICT: HARDWARE is a psychedelic cyber-slasher nightmare that's honestly pretty derivative of other better-known sci-fi actioners (BLADERUNNER, MAD MAX, THE TERMINATOR) but Stanley's unique visual style and dystopian flourishes prove hugely entertaining, a very strong debut film and one of the 90's better genre films. Additionally I think it's a crime against cinema that Richard Stanley hasn't been given a fair shake, this is a great film and I give it not just a recommendation but declare it a MUST BUY! Umbrella Entertainment's release of HARDWARE is also available on 1080p Blu-ray.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blu-ray Review: CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)


LABEL: Shameless Screen Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: September 26th 2011
RATING: 18 Certificate
DURATION: 135 mins / 136 mins
VIDEO: 1080p MPEG-4 AVC Anamorphic Widescreen
AUDIO: English DTS-HD MSTR 2.0 Stereo, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
DIRCETOR: Ruggero Deodato
CAST: Robert Kerman, Perry Pirkanen, Francesca Ciardi, Carl Gabriel Yorke, Luca Barbareschi
TAGLINE: The Most Controversial Film Ever Made

Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST lures us in with a TV documentary telling of four American documentary film makers who have set off to the Amazon jungles to observe the indigenous cannibal tribes. The documentary team consist of docu-director Alan Yates (Carl Gabriel Yorke, IDLE HANDS), his girlfriend and script girl Faye (Francesca Ciardi, THE TUNNEL) and cameramen Jack (Perry Pirkanen, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) and Tomasa (Luca Barbareschi. CUT AND RUN). The four have gone missing while documenting the Amazonian tribes. The news reports spur NYU anthropologist Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman, DEBBIE DOES DALLAS) to form an expedition to rescue the group with the help of a skilled jungle guide named Chaco with a penchant for snorting cocaine (Salvatore Basile, COBRA VERDE) and his assistant Miguel. They are also involuntarily joined my a member of the Yacumo tribe who we see rather brutally captured by the Colombian military just prior to Prof. Monroe's arrival as they decimate a small party of tribesman, completely blowing the face off one of the indigenous people at close range, it's the first of many atrocities visited upon the primitive people of the film.

Not long into their jungle trek they discover the worm infested corpse of Felipe, a jungle guide who accompanied the documentary crew they seek. It's a discouraging sign to say the least, setting up camp next to a river Miguel captures and slaughters a muskrat, it's death shrieks are grotesque. Further on they observe a tribesman who come ashore on a boat, his wife in tow. He binds her with rope to a stake on the muddy embankment and proceeds to vaginally rape her with a phallus-shaped stone implement. He then packs a mud ball with slivers of wood and seems to cram into her vaginal cavity, it's bloody and gut-churning, then killing her with several strong blows to the head then placing her corpse into the wooden canoe shoving it off into the river. Chaco tells a stunned Prof. Munroe that what they've seen is tribal punishment for the woman's infidelity. They follow the tribesman who's now  travelling on foot back to the Yacumo village where they use the captive tribesman (and apparently Miguel's mighty schlong) as leverage to negotiate with the villagers for information pertaining to the missing documentarians. They learn that the film crew were indeed in the area recently and caused great unrest among the tribes.

The following day Munroe, Chaco and Miguel knowing their on the right path head further into the "Green Inferno" when they come across a macabre scene of waring cannibalistic tribes savaging each other. The Yanomamos and the Shamatari are engaged in a brutal battle with the Yanomamos on the losing end until the group intervene with a flurry of gunfire, which earns them an invite to dinner back at the Yanomamo village. What's on the menu? Human flesh, of course! The group are treated with some suspicion until Dr. Munroe earns their respect by bathing naked in the river, these primitive cultures certainly do respect the sight of some schlong, just saying. With his wiener exposed and their trust gained a group of villagers take Munroe to the grotesque and obviously gnawed on skeletal remains of the documentarian crew, they're camera equipment hanging from their remains, including canisters of films they'd shot prior to their grisly deaths. Munroe plays a tape recording of tribal chanting for the villagers who are awestruck at his mighty power that enables him to steal their voices and he is able to strike a deal for the canisters of film in exchange for cassette recorder.

Reversible Artwork Option

Next thing we know were back in New York City and Prof. Munroe strikes a deal with a broadcast TV channel who want him to host a documentary of the recovered film but he wants to screen the "found footage" before he agrees to air it for all the world to see. Here is the genius twist of the film as Munroe and the TV execs screen the "found footage" we watch it with them and experience the true horrors caught in film as we catch glimpses of the crew's journey from New York to Columbia and into the Amazon jungles in search of cannibalistic tribes, a film within a film.

Without spoiling anymore than I already have let me just say that the images caught on film are grotesque, disturbing and unsettlingly potent. There's leg amputation, beheadings, cannibalism, several graphic rape scenes, a forced abortion, murderous arson and the quite infamous impalement from anus to mouth - these are truly soul-rendering acts of human indecency and the effects works from Aldo Gasparri (MAD DOG KILLER) is astounding real, so much so that after the film's premiere in Italy it was siezed by the local magistrate and Deodato was arrested for obscenity and still later charged with making a snuff film, that's right, they believed he murdered his actors. Goddamn that's some potent cinema right there. Eventually Deodato presented the actors on live TV thereby proving his innocence.

This release contains two versions of the film; one is the original version of the film minus 15 seconds of compulsory cuts for what the BBFC calls "unsimulated animal cruelty" aka the muskrat death scene. The second versions is Ruggero Deodato's newly created "re-edit" further removing the animal cruelty beyond the compulsory BBFC cuts. Most notably the gruesome death of a turtle is now obscured by natural looking print damage and the death of the aforementioned muskrat happens off screen though it's unnerving death shriek is still heard. Also, a few frames of the spider monkey deaths are trimmed but it's no less affecting. Be forewarned my animal loving friends there are still despicable acts of cruelty exploitively perpetrated upon a turtle, muskrat, pig, spider monkeys, and a tarantula, so don't go into this thinking what you are getting is a sanitized "clean" edit, it's still plenty repugnant and that's on top of the degradation, rape and murder of the painfully stereotyped indigenous people. Either version of Deodato's most notorious film found here are still full-on cannibal exploitation films. It should be noted that most if not all the animals killed were eaten by the indigenous cast of the film if that helps you sleep better at night.

Few films are as notorious as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and with good reason, there's no other film quite like this one, it's despicable but undeniably a cinematic masterpiece in my mind. Taking it's cue from the MONDO CANE films that came before it Deodato has infused the film with a disturbingly realistic aesthetic, the documentary footage shot on 16mm in cinema verite style puts you right there with 'em as they perpetrate impossibly heinous acts upon the indigenous people, you are complicit in the act unable to stop them from happening before your very eyes, it's a film that deeply troubles you and may have you questioning your taste in films.

The acting is top notch from a cast of inexperienced unknowns at the time (and mostly even still now) aside from Robert Kerman who was already the star if numerous adult pornos unbeknownst to Deodato. Yorke is particularly effective as the cruel documentarian, outside of the that I thought Francesa Ciardi was quite impressive and quite possibly the most relatable character if I could even dare say that about any character in the film.

BLU-RAY: Shameless Screen Entertainment's release marks this exploitation classics world debut on region FREE Blu-ray and is presented in an MPEG-4 AVC encode that's 1080p HD anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1).  Admittedly it's been a few years since I last sat down with my Grindhouse Releasing special edition DVD but I think it's quite safe to say that the film has never looked any better that what I see here. It's a gorgeous transfer from a very nice print, colors are vibrant and deep though a few instances of softness do appear throughout, as much of the film was shot on 16mm and blown-up to 35mm it's just to be expected. There's a fine layer of film grain present throughout  with some fine detail and the image is plenty sharp for a film of it's age. The two audio options are English DTS-HD MSTR 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. For the sake of the review I only listened to the DTS-HD track and it sounds fine, not overly dynamic though what would one expect from a "found footage" film realistically? Dialogue, effects and the wild sounds of the jungle canopy sound well balanced, scoring particularly well is Riz Ortoloni's fantastic score, a work of disturbing beauty from start to finish with a combination of sweet orchestral arrangements and disturbing electronics sounds. SPECIAL FEATURES:

Outside of a the very fine PQ Shameless have commissioned brand new features that are exclusive to this edition beginning with introductions to both the original version and the new re-edit from director Ruggero Deodato who in the latter explaining his reasining behind the re-edit. Film And Be Damned (40:28) is a new interview with Ruggero Deodato and actor Carl G. Yorke. The director speaks to the MONDO CANE inspiration, casting the actors, his surprise at finding out about Kerman's porn career considering his "average sized manhood", scouting locations, selling the film, creating the infamous impalement scene, the score, a deleted piranha scene and the film's reception, censoring and his trial for making a snuff film among other topics. Actor Carl Yorke discusses his experience on the film, including many difficult days on set and his interactions with the director, his co-stars and the difficulty filming the rape sxcene and choosing not to shoot the swine. The Long Road Back From Hell (40:20) is a specially commissioned documentary by Cine Excess featuring Kim Newman, Professor Julian Petley, Professor Mary Wood, Ruggero Deodato, Carl G. Yorke and actress Francesca Ciardi. It's a comprehensive examination of the film that's sure to please fans of the film.

It's definitely a sweet package and makes for a compelling argument for purchase despite being an edited version of the film, then again it's a director approved edit that he supervised himself, further stating in the press release and during the interview that the inclusion of animal slaughter in the film was at the insistence of the producers at the time and not his true vision. Here in the US we have the uncut Grindhouse Releasing special edition DVD, and we take for granted the availability of uncut films on DVD and Blu-ray to the point that unrated DVD editions are a bit of a marketing gimmick and thankfully we don't have the BBFC to contend with. This past week I've been a bit up in arms over not only George Lucas's revisionist editing but what I consider ruinous meddling with his STAR WARS films over the years, from the laserdisc edition to the new Blu-ray set and it got me to thinking about not just Deodato's "re-edit" but UK film censorship as a whole and I've come to the conclusion that THANK GOD I LIVE IN THE USA. For those in the UK this arbitrary censoring is a reality with no end in site but there is light at the far end of that slippery sloped tunnel with recent reclassification of other video nasties like ISLAND OF DEATH now finally released uncut after years of censorship. Praise should be given to UK distributors like Shameless and Arrow Video who regularly submit, re submit and take to task the BBFC in an ever vigilent struggle to give fans uncut versions of censored films.

What do you think of a Deodato's new director approved "re-edit" of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, think it's worth a purchase? I think so but I'd love to hear what you fiolks think wether you're from the UK or elsewhere.

- Introduction to the original film by director Ruggero Deodato (:09) 16x9
- Introduction to the new Director’s Edit by Ruggero Deodato. (1:49) 16x9
- “Film And Be Damned”  (40:28) 16x9 - interview with Ruggero Deodato and actor Carl G. Yorke.
- “The Long Road Back From Hell” (40:20) 16x9 A specially commissioned documentary by Cine Excess featuring Kim Newman, Professor Julian Petley, Professor Mary Wood, Ruggero Deodato, Carl G. Yorke and actress Francesca Ciardi.
- Theatrical Trailer (2:54) 16x9
- Shameless Trailer Park: HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK, DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING, NEW YORK RIPPER all presented 16x9 widescreen.
- Easter Egg.

VERDICT: CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST remains a haunting and gut churning commentary on the depraved nature of civilized man and sensational journalism. It's a must-see film but it may well be a film you only watch once, that's enough for most folks I know. After all there's only so much depravity and nausea a person can take and even by hardened horror standards this is shockingly gruesome still do this day 31 years later. This was my entry into Shameless's catalog and I'm suitably impressed with the presentation and supplemental materials. I went in wary of this "re-edit" and am pleased to report it's not ruinous to the film in anyway and the newly created interview and documentary are top shelf from start to finish. It's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST on region FREE Blu-ray and playable worldwide, what more do you need to know?



LABEL: Camp Motion Pictures
RATING: Unrated
DURATION: 548 mins
VIDEO: 4x3 Fullframe
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, no subtitles
DIRECTORS: Tim O’Rawe, Gary Cohen, Jon McBride
CAST: Dennis Driscoll, Kathleen Heidinger, David Webber, Scott Corizzi, Traci Mann, Pamela Kramer, John Paul Fedele, Scott Hart, Lisa Cohen, Linda Herman, Jackie Neill, John McBride, Amy Chludzinski, Christopher A. Granger, Richard Marcus, Gene Robbibns, Carrie Lindell, Joseph Salheb, Gary Schwartz, Chick Kaplan, Robin leeds, , Uke, Bart Sumner, William Toddle

When I first unboxed the package from Camp Motion Pictures containing THE BASEMENT VHS/DVD 5-Film Collection I howled with glee at it's contents. C'mon it's not everyday that I get an oversized 3-disc "Big Box" VHS styled boxset of 1980's DIY horror films shot on video, especially one that includes a never-before-released super 8mm horror anthology on not only on DVD but also a VHS - that's right - a red VHS tape of THE BASEMENT is included! Available for the first time on VHS and DVD, THE BASEMENT is the lost 1989 Super 8 anthology feature film directed by Timothy O’Rawe (GHOUL SCHOOL) that smacks of many hours spent watching Amicus horror anthologies and TV's TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE. Here's the disc by disc breakdown of the set beginning with the main feature...


In Tim O'Rawe's shot-on-super 8 horror anthology THE BASEMENT four strangers are summoned to a dank basement of an abandoned house by a creepy entity known as The Sentinel. One after another the unwilling participants are forced to witness the heinous deeds they have yet to commit but will damn them for all eternity. This is a very AMICUS-esque anthology with elements of EC Comics morality and TALES FROM THE DARSKIDE styled shenanigans with a crypt-keeper like host that I think any horror fan would be hard-pressed not to appreciate. 

The anthology begins with SWIMMING POOL in which a truly annoying Jersey bitch named Victoria discovers her pool is inhabited by a creature who eats anyone foolish enough to dip a toe in. After shaking off the initial shock that her pool is eating people she does what most of us might - makes a list of people she could do without in this life, invites them over and shoves 'em in where green tentacles emerge from the frothy surface and dispose of the evidence. It's not overly gory segment but this was fantastic fun with a great EC comics twist ending. Great start to the film, fun watery deaths with no gore but great stuff nonetheless.

The next segment is TRICK OR TREAT, a Halloween themed tale featuring a school teacher named Charles who really hates anything having to do with Halloween, especially kids, which is strange 'cuz like I said he's a high school teacher. When he's in the classroom he fantasizes about killing his entire classroom, it's a gloriously gory daydream, too - fun stuff. Halloween night he is visited upon by the ghost of his deceased wife who warns him to change his curmudgeonly ways lest he suffer the same fate as her. He awakens assuming it only to have been a dream and spends the night watching horror films on TV which is strange what with his hate of Halloween isn't it? Regardless he waits for trick or treaters to arrive at his doorstep only to shit on their fun with mean spirited pranks. Not having heeded his wife's warning from beyond the grave he is visited upon by more spirits like a Halloween themed production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL which includes visitation from a demon, witch, mummy and finally Death. This was my favorite segment of the anthology and very much recalled a Tom Savini directed episode of the TV series Tales from the Darkside called "Trick or Treat" as well. I'd be surprised if that were not a direct inspiration for this one. This was definitely the goriest of the vignettes with great make-up effects, fun stuff.

Then onto ZOMBIE MOVIE featuring reanimated corpses taking revenge against a hot-shit director who would dare disparage the name of George A. Romero and crap upon a Fangoria reading horror geeks. A fun tale with a lot of horror references, some great zombie unearthing scenes and a zombie horde on the prowl in the fog. Perhaps my least favorite of the four but still entertaining.

The last segment is HOME SWEET HOME wherein a young man having just inherited money after his father's death purchases a creepy old house formerly owned by a notorious serial killer where torture and  sadistic murder transpired 6 years prior. Strange things start to happen when he spends the night in the house with his friends, which he at first attributes to having drank way too much whisky but it soon becomes clear that there's something decidedly evil going on leading to some sweet EVIL DEAD-style limb severing.

The film was a definite fun time, low-budget shot-on-super 8mm and cheesy. Bad acting and poor post-sync dubbing but Scott Hart's special effects were pretty bad ass and there's some great bloody carnage to be had here. The bits were definitely in the Amicus VAULT OF HORROR style campy-horror with the SOV aesthetic of the classic 80's TV show TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, great stuff.

Special features for this obscure lost gem include a audio commentary with cinematographer Michael Raso and John Fidele of the Alternative Cinema podcast. it's a fun and informative look back at the making of the film in which we learn that it was shot on the same 8mm camera as THE DEAD NEXT DOOR and that the film was abandoned six months after filming completed due to the film looking too dark to be release commercially on VHS, that is until technology proved otherwise many years later and they were able to "squeeze" an image out of the 8mm film. Its a great listen. There's also a collection of outtakes and deleted scenes that include some a glimpse of the unused creature in the pool (a wise choice) which we never see in the final film and some neat behind-the scenes special effects shots, a local TV news segment about the film featuring director Tim O'Rawe, Michael Rasso and special effects creator Scott Hart who shows off one of the zombie heads from the film. Rounding out the disc are three half hour episodes of the Meadowlands Showcase public access TV show the aired around the same time, a very cool comedy production, plus two Tim O'Rawe short films; one called VENGEANCE which did little for me and cool horror short called SAY NO TO DRUGS featuring Death bloodily ending the lives of drug addicts, which was awesome.

- Audio Commentary with cinematographer Michael Raso and Assistant Director John Paul Fedele
- Outtakes and Deleted Scenes (6:30)
- News Segment "The Basement" (3:51)
- Meadowland Showcase TV - 3 Episodes: Halloween Takeover, Long is the Night, Long Road to Karaoke (85:24)
- Tim O'Rawe Short Films: SAY NO TO DRUGS (9:50), VENGEANCE (4:03)

As if this unearthed super 8mm anthology gem weren't enough this boxset comes with four late-80's SOV classics including John McBride's CANNIBAL CAMPOUT, Gary Cohen's VIDEO VIOLENCE 1 and 2 plus CAPTIVES - three goofy, blood soaked celebrations of DIY violence and 80's bad taste.


CAPTIVES (1988) 
This is director Gary Cohen’s follow-up to his popular SOV horror film VIDEO VIOLENCE and was shot prior to VIDEO VIOLENCE 2. The film has a decidedly THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT / HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK flavor to it as a family is taken hostage by three deranged criminals forcing a woman to fight back and save the lives of her baby and mother-in-law. The film is plays it mostly straight with a few comedic moments, it's a grim home invasion/revenge thriller leading to a shocking revelation about the motivations of the violent invaders. Poorly acted and not very well shot (even my SOV standards) but Cohen was definitely aiming for a down n' dirty exploitation film and he's somewhat successful.

SPECIAL FEATURE: Audio Commentary with moderator Michael Raso, director Gary P. Cohen and Joel Cobeck.

In John McBride's CANNIBAL CAMPOUT four college kids on a camping trip to the backwoods of New Jersey run afoul of a deranged trio of weirdos who stalk, torture, mutilate and eat the unhappy campers one by one. Taking obvious inspiration from FRIDAY THE 13th and THE HILLS HAVE YES the film is a gore-tastic SOV splatter-classic that's loaded with bad acting and gratuitous amounts of blood, guts and breasts. The highlight for me even more so that the array of cheap gore is the intensely wacky performance from actor Richard Marcus (TREMORS) portraying the leader of the backwoods cannibal clan, it's completely over-the-top, bonkers and pretty sweet in a so bad it's good sorta way. One of the brothers is a reptilian mutant who wears a pilot's visored helmet with a length of oxygen hose attached, it's a great looking get-up and is quite memorable. The kicker of the film is the revelation that the cannibalism is the result of a death bed promise the trio made to their mother on her deathbed to avoid junk food, 'natch. The films is derivative to the nth degree but makes for an entertaining stalk n' slasher as the depraved trio hunt, kill and eat their prey.

SPECIAL FEATURE: Audio Commentary with co-director John McBride.


In Gary Cohen's gore-soaked tribute to mom and pop video stores a young yuppie couple named Steve (Art Neill) and Rachel (Jackie Neill) move from New York City to the 'burbs of New Jersey to get away from the weirdos and open a neighborhood video store. Business is great but Steve is perplexed that the entire community seems addicted to grisly horror films, no one seems to enjoy a good comedy or drama in this town and things get really weird when someone accidentally returns not one of the shop's overdue titles but a video containing a real life snuff film. Despite bringing it to the attention of the sheriff (William Toddle) the investigation doesn't seem to be getting any traction and the reason why will soon become apparent when they start to investigate the strange goings on themselves meeting Eli and Howard, two nutty guys who oversee an underground snuff film empire. This was a darkly comedic flick, fun stuff that was quite bloody with many dismemberments for the gore-hounds. I love the concept and think that if they're gonna be remaking all these 80's classics why not pump some cash into a remake of VIDEO VIOLENCE?

On the commentary track Gary Cohen discusses the genesis of the film going back to a time he worked as a video store clerk and a mother with a young child came in looking for something her daughter to watch. When she brought a VHS of I DISMEMBER MAMA to the counter she asked if there was nudity in the film to which he replied no but that it was rather violent film to which she replied that as long as there's no nudity the violent content was alright. Cohen explains his distaste for violence but his love of all things horror, something I think most horror fans can relate to.The commentary is a fun listen, somewhat informative but mostly a rambunctious group recollection of making the film.


- Audio Commentary with Gary Cohen, Mark Kwuatek, Art Neil, Paul K., David Christopher and Uke.
- Interview with Video Violence Director Gary Cohen (14:12)

After helming the grim home invasion thriller CAPTIVES director Gary Cohen returned to the teet of VIDEO VIOLENCE for a campy gore-soaked sequel which finds our snuff film impresarios Howard and Eli now pirating the WGOR cable TV channel to not only showcase their brand of depraved homemade snuff films but to actually host a live variety show wherein victims are dispatched on live television complete with a Paul Shaffer styled band leader. The first film had some humor to it but this one purposefully ramps up the camp (and gore) to entertaining effects with busty naked ladies and fun Herschell Gordon-Lewis styled gore-tastic vingettes.

- Audio Commentary with Gary Cohen, Mark Kwuatek, Art Neil, Paul K., David Christopher and Uke.


DVD'S: All the films on the set are presented in 4x3 fullframe and shot on videotape except for THE BASEMENT which was shot on 8mm film. Both formats offer a dingy patina of crappiness to the films as one might expected though I was pleasantly surprised how well both VIDEO VIOLENCE films looked, not great mind you, but when compared to CANNIBAL CAMPOUT, SLEDGEHAMMER and other SOV films of the era it's not too shabby either. THE BASEMENT has been restored by DP Michael Raso and looks decent but it's still grainy and pretty murky. Both VV films have been digitally edited and remasterd by Joel Cobeck and they're probably the best looking films on the set overall. The audio quality is lo-fi from start to finish, particularly THE BASEMENT which was post-dubbed to great comedic effect - 70's Italian films have nothing on 80's SOV cinema in that respect.

VERDICT: Say what you will about the quality (or lack thereof) of these ultra low-budget films but something you can never take away from them is the glorious DIY horror-infused spirit that oozes from every nook and cranny of 'em. These are micro-budgeted love letters to the horror genre made by fans for fans with little to no expectation of profit or distribution. Camp Motion Pictures THE BASEMENT Camp retro 80's Collection is so far the best boxset of 2011 in my opinion. If you love 80's horror, have an affinity for schlock cinema and are nostalgic for the retro VHS aesthetic THIS IS A MUST BUY!!! What a great year for obscure SOV treasures with the surreal slasher SLEDGEHAMMER and the canuxploitation oddity THINGS having finally been brought to DVD and now this "big box" of schlocky 80's VHS awesomeness - I say bring it on!