Thursday, February 24, 2011

Arrow Video break Beyond Re-Animator out of the Fantastic Factory

Arrow Video have announced that the Beyond Re-Animator DVD that is part of the Fantastic Factory Presents set will also be available as as a stand-alone release the week after the Fantastic Factory Presents hits shelves on April 25th 2011. I'm anxious to check out the whole enchilada but for those looking for just a taste of the Re-Animator franchise here you go. It looks like a great package, much better than the Region 1 release. I believe that the other titles from the set will also follow suite in short order.

Beyond Re-Animator DVD
Release Date: April 25th 2011

Label: Arrow Video
Director: Brian Yuzna 
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Elsa Pataky, Tommy Dean Musset
Tagline: Welcome to Death Row. The Doctor will see you now…

Trash cinema’s greatest ghoul is back! Horror legend Jeffery Combs returns as Dr. Herbert West in Beyond Re-Animator, the gory sequel to the original 80s splatter classic.

Incarcerated for the death of an innocent teenage girl at the hands of one of his resurrected corpes, Dr. West continues his insane research into the creation of life from behind bars. West makes a breakthrough with his discovery of Nano-Plasmic Energy, a substance that prevents the living dead from degenerating, but in doing so he unleashes bloody chaos in the prison as no one knows difference between the humans and the zombies.

From the fevered mind of HP Lovercraft and Brian Yuzna comes a sick horror comedy thrill ride in which you can trust no one... Alive or Dead!

Special Features
- Reversible Sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
- Audio commentary with director Brian Yuzna
- ‘All in the Head’ Brian Yuzna on the Re-Animator Chronicles (50 mins)
- Original Trailer
- Double-sided fold-out poster featuring new artwork
- Collector’s booklet featuring ‘World of Lovecraft’ and an Interview with star Jeffrey Combs by author and critic Calum Waddell as well as an extract from H.P. Lovecraft’s original story ‘Herbert West: Renimator’

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio: English Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Running time 92 mins
Region 0 PAL

Monday, February 21, 2011

DVD REVIEW: Felicity (1979)

This is part five in a series of six reviewsof films featured on Umbrella Entertainment's Ozploitation Vol.3  boxset. Up next on review block is a double feature review of John D. Lamond's Austrailia After Dark (1975) and The ABC of Love and Sex (1977) 

 from the OZPLOITATION VOLUME 3 (6-Disc Set)

Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: Region All
Duration: 90 mins
Rating: R
Director: John D. Lamond
Cast: Glory Annen, Chris Milne, Joni Flynn, Jody Hansen
Tagline: She ain't Mama's little girl no more!

Plot: Felicity (the gorgeous Glory Annen) is a sheltered teen who surrenders her blossoming body to a world of bold sexual adventure in this homegrown erotic sin-sation from sexy Ozploitation auteur John D. Lamond. From taboo-breaking pleasures at an all-girl Catholic school to wanton delights in the exotic underground of Hong Kong, come join Felicity as she finally liberates her libido in the Far East with the help of Penthouse pet and Bond girl Joni Flynn (Octopussy).Plot: Felicity (the gorgeous Glory Annen) is a sheltered teen who surrenders her blossoming body to a world of bold sexual adventure in this homegrown erotic sin-sation from sexy Ozploitation auteur John D. Lamond. From taboo-breaking pleasures at an all-girl Catholic school to wanton delights in the exotic underground of Hong Kong, come join Felicity as she finally liberates her libido in the Far East with the help of Penthouse pet and Bond girl Joni Flynn (Octopussy).

Film: My own experiences with the wonders of softcore erotica began and ended with late-night viewings of the Emmanuel films on Cinemax at far too young of an age. When my folks would retire to their room for the evening I would stealthily make my way to the family room where I would stand directly in front of the TV with the volume turned WAY down, obscuring it from view so as if my parents caught me by surprise I could snap the TV off (with my free hand) without them glimpsing what naughty nocturnal activities might have been transpiring. Our home didn't have the premium cable channels but I was somehow able to hear (not clearly see) the adult programming by holding down several buttons on the cable box in tandem. The image would appear a scrambled blur but occasionally would reveal a nipple or some other delicate part of a woman's anatomy. Pathetic, I know, but that's the unstoppable drive of adolescent sexual curiosity for you. Not coincidentally it was around this time that I discovered the answer to Rusty Griswold's question to his cousin Dale in National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), "How do you use a magazine?".... 

The softcore-cinema of late-night skinemax came and went during but a brief period of my adolescence. Shortly after I was more enamored with 80's slashers and the supernatural terrors of horror cinema which offered both blood, guts and boobs, the best of both worlds. Sex cinema fell to the wayside for many years until just this past year a blu-ray screener of Radley Metzger's Score (1972) unexpectedly came by the office and what a treat that was. I'd nearly forgotten how fun and sexy these late-70's films were. Erotic cinema like Score offered stylish adult fare that wasn't out and out sleazy like cheaply made pornography. Likewise there's Felicity (1979) directed by Aussie sexploitation pioneer John D. Lamond whom began his film career with a pair of fun shokcumentaries The ABC of Sex and Love: Australia Style (1977) and Australia After Dark (1975). His approach to erotica comes from a place of  humor, sensuality and sexiness -  not just hardcore fucking for the sake of gratification, which has it's place but this is something more all together.

The film tells the tale of the gorgeous young woman named Felicity (Glory Annen) who's coming of age in a private Catholic school where she's been quietly developing a strong sexual curiosity and has on occasion acted on these curiosities with her equally libidinous roommate. When school let's out for Summer break Felicity heads to Hong Kong where she stays with family friends. It's here that she meets a beautiful local girl named Me Ling (Joni Flynn, Octopussy) and begins to explore her overflowing sexual curiosity with numerous partners until she meets a fun photographer named Miles (Christopher Milne, Thirst). The film is equal parts erotic fairytale, Orient travelogue and a sensual coming of age story and while there's no shortage of pants-tightening titillation it is a surprisingly tender film in it's handling of sexuality and the act of sex. Lamond is a stylish director and the film is beautifully composed, particularly the shots of Hong Kong, good stuff indeed. I enjoyed the fairytale nature of the film which is enhanced not only Annen's classic beauty but by the the accompanying running narration and the loads of sex didn't hurt either. That said, this is not merely a male sex fantasy and is very much geared towards portraying Felicity as a sexually empowered young woman.

DVD: Felicity is featured on the  6-disc Ozploitation Vol. 3 set from Aussie DVD label Umbrella Entertainment. The film is presented in a 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer with 2.0 English language audio. It's a remarkably good looking print with few blemishes to be seen. The audio while not overly impressive is adequate enough to firmly implant the film's saccharine easy listening  theme song "Mama's Little Girl No More" into your skull for weeks. From what I can tell the bonus features replicate Umbrella stand-alone disc minus the original theatrical trailer. It should be noted that this DVD can only be operated on machines capable of playing  Region 0 PAL format software.

Special Features:
- Audio commentary with Director John D. Lamond and star Glory Annen. A nice commentary as the two reminisce about their experiences on the set of the film, plenty of interesting factoids. It's a lighthearted commentary and both are in good spirits and fondly recall the film.
- Confessions of an R-Rated Movie Maker (8:10) - an interview with Lamond talking about his film and how they're viewed by the Australian elite.
- Stills and Poster Gallery - a series of 37 behind-the-scenes and promotional still.
- Umbrella Entertainment Trailers: a pleasantly lurid collection of softcore and sex comedy trailers: Laura (2:33), Emmanuel in Bangkok (1:33), Pacific Banana (2.55) and Private Lessons (1:78)

Verdict: John D. Lamond's Felicity (1979) is a fantastic example of the late-70's erotic cinema exemplified by Justin Jaeckin's Emmanuelle (1974). It's light-hearted, witty and nearly every frame is filled with gorgeous scenery and the perky beauty of star Glory Annen. A high recommend for those exploring sensual cinema. So grab your lady, a mid-range bottle of wine and let the erotic good time rolll. Classy though it may be if you're just a lonely guy looking for a  good wank spankin' good time it's that, too. 4 outta 5

DVD REVIEW: Phenomena (1985)

Release Date: March 7th 2011

Label: Arrow Video
Duration: 115 min.
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL

Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasence
Tagline: Jennifer Has A Few Million Close Friends. She's Going To Need Them All.

Plot: Poor sleepwalking Jennifer Corvino (Connelly) doesn’t fit in at her boarding school and her uncanny ability to control insects isn’t helping her popularity. With the aid of a local entomologist (Pleasence), can she use her psychic insect skills to find the killer who’s leaving her fellow pupils in bloody pieces?

Film: Phenomena is the third of what has become known as Dario Argento's animals trilogy; a trio of films beginning with the giallo classic The Bird with the Crystal Plumage(1970), Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) and ending with Phenomena (1985). The film was released following Tenebre (1982), one of my favorite Argento films, a stylish Giallo classic. Originally released here in the states in a severely cut version called Creepers this is a weird, dark fairytale that recalls many elements of Argento's supernatural thriller Suspiria (1977). The film begins as  tourist Vera Grandt (Fiore Argento) misses a bus in the Swiss countryside. She approaches a nearby home in search assistance but when no one answers enters the house. Once inside she arouses the interest of something fiendish that's been chained to the wall. Whatever it is pulls the chains from the wall and attacks the young woman with a pair of scissors. She escapes the initial attack and runs madly through the forest to a nearby gorge where she is cornered and decapitated in a visually stunning manner, her head shattering a pane of glass in slow-mo and falling to the waterfall below. Months later Jennifer (Connolly) arrives at a nearby Swiss boarding school, definite shades of Suspiria. There she meets Frau Brucker (Daria Nicolodi), the stern headmistress (Dalilia Do Lazzaro) and her new roommate - even more shades of Suspira. Jennifer has a few odd quirks, she regularly sleepwalks plus she is able to telekinetically communicate with insects. Neat, a real lord of the flies. When she's sleepwalking she envisions a long white corridor with many doors, great surreal Argento visuals. During one of her episodes she unwittingly witnesses the murder of her roommate and during yet another nocturnal stroll wonders off school grounds where she encounters and befriends entomologist Dr. John McGregor (Donald Pleasance with a snazzy Scottish accent). McGregor is wheelchair bound and relies on his Chimpanzee named Inga to assist him. Inga is very helpful and super protective and later wields a straight razor on a revenge mission, it only gets weirder. McGregor and Jennifer form a bond over their shared love the insects and he warns her that a demented psychopath on the loose in the area killing young girls. Back at school Jennifer is not well-liked and less-so when her creepy affinity for insects is revealed when she summons a swarm of flies upon the school in a fit of anger. The headmistress is intent on having her committed to a psychiatric after the event but when the men in white arrive Jennifer has fleed to McGregor's who irresponsibly sends her in search of the killer armed only with a sarcophagus fly to aid in the detection of cadavers. The search for the killer obviously puts her in imminent danger which leads to a startling revelation and bizarre final confrontation on a boat with a fiendish freak and his mother.

There's not an extraordinary amount of death and gore here but what here is significantly gruesome, predominantly some slasher-style killings and rotting flesh. The decomposition special effects work by Sergio Stivaletti is stomach churningly effective while the pre-digital optical effects work by Luigi Cozzi lends a bizarre atmosphere to the proceedings. Claudio Simonetti of Goblin performs the main title theme but the signature Goblin music is not as prevalent throughout the film as in previous Argento film scores and instead we get cuts from Motorhead and a tasty Iron Maiden track "Flash of the Blade". Great tunes but the music is a bit jarring  and may take you out of the film temporarily.

DVD: Arrow Video have been on a winning streak with a series of prime Dario Argento releases including Inferno, Deep Red and now Phenomena. This is the Italian director's cut of the film presented in it's original 16:9 enhanced 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The image looks very good and gets an edge over previous editions with a crisper and more detailed image. There is an abundance of film grain during the darker lit scenes and the first kill of the film in particular but overall a very good transfer. Audio option include a 2.0 stereo English and Italian language soundtrack with subtitle option for each track including a brand new subtitle translation for the Italian language track. It should be noted that the English audio reverts to Italian during a few scenes with missing audio much like the Arrow edition of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. There's a nice selection of exclusive special features including a 50 minute documentary and two featurettes. The Anchor Bay DVD from 2008 features some great exclusive content as well including a commentary track from Dario Argento, Sergio Stivaletti and Claudio Simonetti. A newly created DTS-HD 5.1 surround mix would've been appreciated but the stereo tracks are quite good and even a carry-over commentary from the Anchor Bay edition or a new commentary with Argento historians Thomas Rostock or Alan Jones would've been fantastic. Still, this disc begs for a spot on the DVD shelf in your house.

 - DARIO'S MONKEY BUSINESS: THE MAKING OF PHENOMENA (50:03) a documentary featuring interviews with key talent behind the film including director Dario Argento, star Daria Nicolodi and underwater photographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia and more. A pretty typical Arrow Video documentary from High Rise Productions in that it contains great interviews intersperesed with clips and stills from the film that color the viewing experience. I always game for Daria Nicolodi interview who is quick to point out Argento's faults, good stuff.
- MUSIC FOR MAGGOTS – an Interview with composer with Claudio Simonetti (6:17)
- CREEPERS FOR CREATURES:  Sergio Stivaletti lives Q+A sessions from Dublin and Edinburgh. (18:08)

My screener contains only the disc information and none of the  wonderful Arrow Video packaging, but should you buy this edition it will include the following...
- Four panel reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork
- Two sided fold out poster with new art work
- Exclusive collector’s booklet featuring brand new writing on Phenomena by Alan Jones, author of Profondo Argento
- Original art by Rick Melton

Verdict: One of the odder films in Dario Argento's repertoire, a mash-up of his earlier giallo style like Deep Red (1975) with the dark fantasy elements of the supernatural thrillers Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980). It's not prime Argento but I think when held up against his post Opera (1987) output it stands tall. Killer insects, a mutant freak and a cunning chimp -  this cannot not be good, right? Overlooked and well worth a buy in my opinion. Gets better with each view. 3.5 outta 5

Sunday, February 20, 2011

DVD REVIEW: Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974)

Pt. 4 of 6 reviews from the OZPLOITATION VOLUME 3 (6-Disc Set)

LABEL: Umbrella Entertainment
REGION: Region 0 PAL
DURATION: 93 mins
DIRECTOR: Bruce Breseford
CAST: Barry Crocker, Barry Humphries, Donald Pleasance

PLOT: Aunt Edna Everage (Barry Humphries) is returning from London with her hapless loud-mouthed, sex crazed nephew, Barry McKenzie (Barry Crocker), when she is mistaken for the Queen of England by a couple of Eastern European ratbags. She is kidnapped and taken to Transylvanian in a bid to boost their struggling tourist industry. Excitement brews and Fosters flows as Bazza sets out to rescue the Dame-to-be in distress from the clutches of Erich Count Plasma (Donald Pleasence), the sinister head of the Transylvanian Tourist Commission. Can Bazza pull it off?

FILM: Australia had a nearly non-existent film industry prior to the early-70's and when vulgar comedies like the Barry McKenzie series made a splash the culturally elite of Australia were mortified by the exploitation of the unsophisticated ocker image. Obviously bereft of a funny bone these folks don't understand that you gotta be able to laugh at yourself once in awhilevand while the elite balked at the outlandish depictions of the Aussie everyman  director Bruce Bedeford's sequel to THE ADVENTURES OF BARRY MCKENZIE (1972) reveled in it. Much as with LES PATTERSON SAVES THE WORLD (1987) this sequel to finds the frosty Fosters swilling Barry 'Bazza' McKenzie in France where his Aussie-centric mannerisms offend people of all nationalities and persuasions. This time out McKenzie (Barry Crocker) and his Aunt Edna (Barry Humphries) are in Paris, France on a stop over from London en route to Australia when Barry runs into his sky-pilot twin brother Reverend Kevin McKenzie at a Catholic seminar entitles 'Christ and the Orgasm". The encounter  leads to Barry standing in for his brother in front of a Catholic seminar performing a colorful song describing what the term "ratbag" means, it's a very fun musical number. While there Aunt Edna is confused for the Queen of England by henchmen of the Transyvanian Tourist Commissioner, Count Erich Plasma (Donald Pleasance) who has hatched a misguided scheme to boost tourism in his obscure little province by kidnapping the Queen of England. The henchmen grab the old gal and take her to Transylvania where she seems to think she is merely a VIP guest of the Count's leading to some humorous miscommunication between the two. Can Barry McKenzie save her before Count Plasma realizes his error and drains Edna of her precious bodily fluids?

Bazza as played by Crockers is a naive, misguided oaf of a man completely oblivious to his wrong-thinking ways not unlike Jay from Kevin Smith's Clerks films and it's easy to forgive his terrible ways. The twin brother plot line was quite extraneous and added very little aside from a great musical number early on. It was nice to catch Barry Humphries' Dame Edna as well as several character throughout including Senator Douglas Manton whom introduces the film similarly to the Mortimer Young DVD intro of THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998). Pleasance so good in so many films including  RAW MEAT (1972) and HALLOWEEN (1978) is just too eccentrically corny as Count Plasma, the character seems beneath him to be honest. 

If you're a fan of irreverent comedies there's a lot to like here,  some of the gags run on  a bit long as there's only so many "poofter" references you can take in one sitting. The physical comedy is entertaining including a great kung fun fighting sequence and a few gross-out scenes, one having Bazza "cry ruth" which is Aussie speak for throwing up aka "chundering" aka "technicolor yawn" from the height of the Eiffel Tower with a great delayed impact that just plasters the Transylvanian agents. The Aussie wordplay is vibrant and wonderful though most of it would be unintelligible if it weren't not for the Bazzaspeak in-film subtitles. For me the oddest and most wonderful scene involves Bazza try to smuggle dozen of cans of Fosters into the country but is caught by airport security who rip off the bullet-belt of ale and throw it to the ground and machine gun the suds into oblivion and the fending off a the Count via a crucifix of Fosters's cans. Not a great comedy but appropriately silly and fun.
DVD: Barry McKenzie Holds His Own comes to us from Umbrella Entertainment as part of the 6-disc OZPLOITATION VOL. 3 set. Presented in "Chunderama" which translates to a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that does not look pristine by any means but is probably better than the film has ever look in previous editions. It's grainy, soft and non-too vibrant but given the age of the film and it's better than you might think. The audio is mono and no subtitles are offered aside from the in-movie subtitles which help translate some of Bazza's more challenging Bazzaisms.

- AUDIO COMMENTARY BY ACTOR BARRY CROCKER - A decent commentary with plenty of anecdotes from the star of the film.
- BARRY HUMPHRIES GIVES US THE GOOD OIL (24:07) - An interview featurette (filmed in 2003). Humphries gives us the comic strip origins of the McKenzie character as well as a great story about pitching an idea about a 3rd film wherein McKenzie would travel to America. The film never did happen but he recounts how familiar the premise of Crocodile Dundee seemed just a few years later. Humphries is always a great interview, very unapologetic and wry.
- BARRY MCKENZIE: OGRE OR OCKE? (50 mins) - an interesting made for Australian TV documentary with film footage, footage of the film's premier, it's censorship and some great interviews with the always enjoyable Barry Humphries and a film critic whom truly seem to despise the film and Humphries inparticular.  
- BEHIND THE SCENES FOOTAGE (32:17)- very raw BTS b-roll footage.
- TEASER TRAILERS (3:46) - three teaser trailers featuring either Edna or Bazza introducing the films to theatre goers.
- TV SPOTS (2:21)

VERDICT:  Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974) is a bit of a slog at times but is still an amusing ozploitation comedy. The adventures of  the uncouth Australian making a spectacle of himself while abroad is a fun time, if extremely uneven. There's an over abundance on insensitive racial humor, gay-bashing and plenty of crudity for the sake of comedy but these characterizations are stereotypes of the perceptions of Australians at the time; crude, smutty people descended from British penal colonies, more so than any true celebration of racism and bigotry. Barry McKenzie Holds His Own will never be mistaken for great cinema but it will most definitely elicit a few chuckles. Not a whole-hearted recommend but I think it's worth a watch with at least 3-4 beers.
**1/2 (2.5 out of 5 stars)

This is pt. 4 of six reviews forthcoming from UMBRELLA ENTERTAINMENT's OZPLOITATION VOL. 3. It's chock full of Aussie Ozploitation goodness featuring some of the most madcap and erotic exploitation films from the land down under. Prepare yourself for reviews of the following films to come your way in short order. Listed below are the other six films on the set. Up next for review: FELICITY (1980)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

BLU-RAY REVIEW: Vampire Circus (1972)

Blu-ray/DVD Combo

RATING: Unrated
DIRECTOR: Robert Young
CAST: Adrienne Corri, Thorley Walters, Anthony Higgins, Robert Tayman
TAGLINE: Human fangs ripping throats - no sawdust can soak up the torrent of blood!

PLOT: A little girl is brutally slain by a vampire in a tiny 19th century Austrian village. Seeking revenge, the townspeople invade the foreboding castle of Count Mitterhaus and kill him for the crime. As the Count dies, he curses the villagers and vows that their children will all die so that he may someday return to life. Fifteen years later, as the village is ravaged by the plague, a traveling circus comes to town and distracts the villagers from their current hardships. Little do they know that their troubles are only beginning! The circus is actually a troupe of shape-shifting vampires and, as the local children start disappearing, they realize the prophecy of the long dead Count is coming true.

FILM: The tale is set in the 17th century Austrian village of Stettle. In an extended prologue to the film Professor Albert Muller (Laurence Payne) is in the forest with his daughter Dora  when she is led astray by an attractive young woman named Anna (Domini Blythe) and taken to the castle of the feared vampire Count Mitterhaus. Anna turns out to be the estranged wife of the professor who has come under the spell of the vampiric Count. Muller proves unable to enter the castle to save the young girl and returns to the village where he gathers a mob who return to the castle with the preferred armaments of 17th century mobs;  pitchforks and torches. Meanwhile Anna offers the young girl to the count who drains her blood as Anna looks on, clearly sexually aroused by the pseudo act of pedophilia. Pretty lurid stuff for a Hammer film of the time I would imagine. After draining the young girl the Count and Anna make love but are interrupted when the angry mob burst into the castle and drive a stake through the Count's heart. With his dying breath the he curses the villagers swearing death to their children so that he may be resurrected. The villagers duly set fire to the castle but not before Anna drags the Count's body to a secret crypt. Mitterhaus is briefly resurrected by a drop of blood and tells Anna to seek his cousin Emil whom will aid her in his resurrection. The way he is briefly resurrected reminded me of an humorous extended death scene that one might see in Simpson's Treehouse of Horror episode, fun stuff. With that in mind it should be said that this is a slightly campy and quirk filled vampire film that's not above a bit of dark humor here and again. I think the odd tone and dreamy atmosphere of the film lends it a unique quality that helps it stand alone amongst so many other bloodsucker films of the period.

Fifteen years later the village is plagued by what some believe to be the black plague while others whisper that the Count's prophecy has come to fruition. The village is shunned by the neighboring villages who fear it and have set up an armed, trigger-happy quarantine around the village perimeter. That's some slow acting curse, fifteen years? Fairy tales and fables rarely seem logical and Vampire Circus definitely has fable-esque quality to it. One day a travelling circus called 'Circus of Nights' arrives in town and despite the oddity of such an arrival during a time of plague the villagers welcome them and appreciate the distraction. The circus is led by gypsy woman (Adrienne Corri) and a menacing white-faced dwarf named Michael (Skip Martin). Also among the performers are Emil (Anthony Higgins), David Prowse (yep, the dude underneath the Darth Vader costume) as the Strongman and high flying twin acrobats.  The troupe put on a series of performances for the village that includes Emil transforming into a panther mid-leap and a fantastically erotic performance from a tiger-lady completely painted head-to-toe, it's mesmerizing stuff. Having just recently taken in a viewing of VAMP (1987) I couldn't help but think of Grace Jones performance here, but this is way better, sexually super-charged stuff.  Now, this shouldn't be too much of a surprise as the film is is called Vampire Circus but the circus performers are indeed shape-shifting vampires who are there to resurrect the Count by murdering the villagers children.  After the first performance Emil the shape-shifter manages to seduce the mayor's daughter Rosa (Christina Paul) and during the second performance the mayor himself (Thorley to a  thoroughly enjoyable film.

DVD: This is Synapse's initial Blu-ray offering and the presentation is truly wonderful. The original Brian Bolland artwork is fantastic and the newly restored 16:9 enhanced 1.66:1 aspect ratio brings the nearly 40 year-old  film back to life. Obviously not as eye-popping as a more recent films, the image looks a bit soft at times but the colors are suitably vibrant and the black levels look consistently deep. The image is accompanied by  DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 audio and while it's not what I would call dynamic it is adequate to the film. A great bonus audio option is an isolated music score showcasing composer David Whitaker's dark filmscore. This is a fairly obscure Hammer horror film and to have such great bonus content to compliment the film is much appreciated. The Bloodiest Show on Earth: The Making of Vampire Circus (32:37) is an all new documentary featuring interviews with Tim Lucas, Joe Dante, actor David Prowse and others discussing the film, it's a great watch. Next up is Gallery of Grotequeries (15:07) a brief look back at circus and carnival themed films through the ages. Visiting the House of Hammer (9:47) is a short retrospective of the "House of Hammer" which was a British horror magazine not unlike "Famous Monsters of Filmland" only Hammer oriented. Rounding out the special features are an interactive black and white comic book, a theatrical trailer and a poster and stills gallery. What's missing? An audio commentary, subtitles and a newly created 5.1 surround mix would've been grand but that's just nitpicking. Note, the special features are presented in anamorphic widescreen HD and duplicated on the DVD in SD. This mark's the first Region 1 Hammer film on Blu-ray, here's to  to more to come. A pretty fantastic and loving assemblage of film and bonus content. Very impressed with Synapse's initial Blu-ray offering,  we should be so lucky that all the obscure genre gems receive this respectful treatment Blu-ray and DVD.

- VAMPIRE CIRCUS: Interactive Comic Book (3:15)

VERDICT:  It's a real shame that VAMPIRE CIRCUS is not better known, at least here in the States, and we should all be appreciative of Synapse Films for bringing it to the masses. This may just be my favorite Hammer film, definitely my favorite Hammer vampire flick. It's a bit surreal and lurid even by Hammer standards of the time and with hints of pedophilia, the murder of small children, and a bizarre carnival atmosphere this is a striking and unique take on the vampire lore. This is a first class, dark fantasy mixed in with some surreal sexed-up vampirism. A high recommend from me, this is a must-buy.
****1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)


Saturday, February 12, 2011

DVD REVIEW: Bleading Lady (2011)

Release Date: March 29th 2011

LABEL: Vicious Cirlce Films
RATING: Unrated
DURATION: 76 min.
DIRECTOR: Ryan Nicholson
CAST: Dan Ellis, Sindy Faraguna, Nathan Durec, Nick Windebank
TAGLINE: Whatever You Do...Don't Yell CUT!

PLOT: Don is a chauffeur and a movie buff who takes his job seriously - very seriously. When his latest assignment takes him to the set of a low-budget horror film, he's overjoyed to learn he'll be driving Riversa Red - His favorite B-movie "Scream Queen." While driving his beloved idol, Don assumes the role of bodyguard and turns fiercely protective, especially after learning that Riversa has a stalker. Hell-bent on protecting his queen and fueled by paranoid fantasies, Don's usual temper tantrums go to fatal extremes. Soon he proves to be not only Riversa's biggest fan, but her worst nightmare as well.

FILM: I must say I'm always pleased to see a screener from exploitation DVD label Vicious Circle Films. The have released some genuinely good exploitation gems in the past few years including EASTER BUNNY, KILL! KILL! (2006),  RUN! BITCH RUN! (2009) and SOMEONE'S KNOCKING AT THE DOOR (2009), real bloody good sleazefests all of 'em. The only let down for me recently is the soon-to-be-released porno queen turned scream queen Tori Black werewolf  feature  HALF MOON (2011). One minor misstep aside and outta the blue comes BLEADING LADY (2011) (previously known as STAR VEHICLE) from Canadian director Ryan Nicholson of GUTTERBALLS (2008) notoriety. This is my first Nicholson film and after polling my trusted inner circle of imaginary twitter and faceboook friends it was a pretty fair split right down the middle between love 'em and hate 'em so with that in mind I went into Nicholson's latest film, the slasher Bleading Lady.

The film centers around Don (Dan Ellis), a short-tempered chauffeur on a low-budget backwoods horror film set. How short tempered you may ask? Well,  it don't take much... the film begins as he's transporting some obnoxious movie extras from the set when they push all the wrong buttons. Don pulls off the main road and orders them out at gunpoint, pulls out a machete and begins gloriously hacking the shit outta 'em. Blood is spaying everywhere, it's a real gorefest. Minutes later he back on the job driving a smoking hot scream queen named Riversa Red (Sindy Faraguna) to the set. Turns out not only is Don a deranged chauffeur but also a horror nerd (now that's a 50/50 mixture of nuttiness) and he knows pretty much everything there is to know about Riversa Red who's star seems to be on the decline. Don finds out that the starlet has a stalker and he takes it upon himself to become her own personal bodyguard, but who's going to protect her from the nightmare that is Don? Between his paranoid delusions, the snot-nosed actors and the wanna-be director of the film Don is in a real hack n' slash mood.  He begins fulfilling his paranoid fantasies by taking out cast and crew one by one until he eventually shows up on-set with a 9mm and forces the remaining cast and crew to film his own gruesome little hand-held horror gem which is interrupted by the starlet's stalker. .  
There's a bit of commentary and comedic satire on the current state of horror filmmaking vs. old school movie-making as Don takes aim at modern slashers and actresses in particular calling the current crop of scream queens "whores" who are merely pimping their bodies while Riversa takes a more sympathetic point of view. Commentary and comedy aside Bleading Lady does not skimp on the tits or gore. We've got blood spattered mayhem throughout the film including a gruesome crowbar to the face, the machette massacre and a gore-tastic beheading. The gore is really well filmed and the camera doesn't pull away for all you gorehounds out there.

Don (Ellis) is the strongest presence in the film, he's a straight shooting take no bullshit bastard and his performance reminded me of a bit of Richard Moll when Moll played weirdos in the late-70's and early-80's. He's a fairly developed character and Sindy Faraguna as the scream queen Riversa Red is also fleshed out a bit. Everyone else is more or less slasher fodder. The idea of a film within a film has always appealed to me and the concept of a slasher on the set of a slasher film is even better and it works wonderfully here, more so than the familiarly themed BRUTAL MASSACRE: A COMEDY (2008) or Israel Luna's FRIGHT FLICK(2010).

DVD: Ryan Nicholson's Bleading Lady (2011) comes to DVD in an unrated director's cut from Breaking Glass Pictures imprint Vicious Circle Films. The film is presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen with a choice of 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround audio. The film is definitely low-budget and it shows some flaws here and there plus the dvdr screener probably didn't help the image either.  The screener contained none of the special features but if you snag the film on March 29th when it is to be released here's what you'll find:

- "Behind the Wheel: The making of Bleading Lady"

- "Left Coast TV presents "On the set of Bleading Lady"
- 8 Deleted Scenes
- Alternate opening
- Director Ryan Nicholson and Lead Actor Dan Ellis audio commentary
- "Bleading Lady" trailer
- Vicious Circle trailers
- Sexy Gory Stills Gallery

VERDICT: At a briskly paced 76 minutes BLEADING LADY is a blood-soaked definite good time, no slasher should exceed 92 minutes in my book. I give this a recommendation and I'm definitely interested in checking out Nicholson's previous films based on this, very enjoyable stuff. ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Arrow Video announces a new classic cinema imprint Arrow Academy

It's no secret that I'm a bit of a fanboy for ARROW VIDEO releases, and why wouldn't I be? Their releases are some of the most comprehensive and lovingly assembled genre titles available today. Now they've gone and started-up a new imprint called ARROW ACADEMY through which they will be releasing classic repertory cinema titles beginning with Vittorio De Sica's timeless classic Bicycle Thieves (1948) in March and to be followed by Henri-Georges Clouzot's thriller Les Diaboliques (1955) in April. This is outstanding news for film fans! Here's the info so far...

Arrow Academy is a new label celebrating the best in world cinema launching in March 2011.

As the once common repertory cinema dies off Arrow Academy aims to be your at-home repertory cinema, where you can make rich cinematic discoveries and enjoy films with optimal picture and audio presentation, brand new special features to contextualize and comment upon the film for that essential post screening discussion as well as a celebration of the art of the film poster with alternate poster designs, viewable through the front package 'poster frame'.

Arrow Academy lovingly takes its name from one of the most famous repertory cinemas; the Academy 1-2-3 where many critics, writers, filmmakers and cineastes first discovered a new kind of cinema, which celebrated the cinema poster with new artwork designs by the famed Peter Strausfeld.

Arrow Academy launches with a line-up of some of the greatest works to grace the cinema screen, presented in brand new restorations, with new special features and artwork.

The first two titles in the range will be Vittorio De Sica's timeless classic Bicycle Thieves and following in April Henri-Georges Clouzot's masterful thriller Les diaboliques.

BICYCLE THIEVES (1948) Blu-ray
Cat No: FCD380
Release Date: March 28th 2011

CAST: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell
DIRECTOR: Vittorio De Sica
DURATION: 89 mins

OVERVIEW:  Heralded as the greatest film ever made on release, winning an Oscar in 1949 and topping the Sight & Sound film poll in 1952, De Sica’s seminal work of Italian neorealism has had an impact on cinema worldwide from release to the present day, with filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray and Ken Loach claiming the film as a direct influence on their own.

Bicycle Thieves tells the story of Antonio, a long unemployed man who finally finds employment putting up cinema posters for which he needs a bicycle. His wife pawns all the family linen to redeem the already pawned bicycle and for Antonio salvation has come, until the bicycle is stolen. Antonio and his son take to the streets in a desperate search to find the bicycle. Bicycle Thieves is as much about the position of Italians in post-War, post-Fascist Italy as the relationship between father and son, told through the labyrinth of the cinematic city with De Sica’s arresting visual poetry. Defining neorealism, a small period of filmmaking that focused on simple, humanist stories, Bicycle Thieves was one of the most captivating and moving.

Arrow Academy presents Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.

- Brand new restored, high definition transfer (1080p)
- Newly translated and more complete optional English subtitles
- Original Trailer
- Feature length audio commentary by Italian Cinema expert Robert Gordon, author of BFI Modern Classics 'Bicycle Thieves'
- ‘Cesare Zavattini’ a feature length documentary by director Carlo Lizzani on the great screenwriter, novelist, critic, long time De Sica collaborator and founder of Italian neorealism
- ‘Timeless Cinema’, a documentary portrait of director, actor and screenwriter Vittorio De Sica
- Comprehensive booklet featuring a brand new essay on the film as well as screenwriter Cesare Zavattini’s essay 'Some Ideas on the Cinema', illustrated with original stills and Lobby Cards
- Artwork presentation packaging including three original posters and a newly commissioned artwork cover

LES DIABOLIQUES (1955) Blu-ray
Cat No: FCD500
Release Date: April 18th 2011

CAST: Simone Signoret, Paul Meurisse, Véra Clouzot
DIRECTOR: Henri-Georges Clouzot
DURATION: 117 mins

OVERVIEW: After the success of The Wages of Fear (Le salaire de la peur) Henri-Georges Clouzot cemented his reputation with his masterpiece, Les diaboliques.

Based on a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac (who also wrote the novel on which Hitchcock’s Vertigo is based), Les diaboliques tells the story of a sadistic headmaster (Paul Meurisse) who brutalises his wife and mistress (Véra Clouzot and Simone Signoret) and their plot to murder him. Superbly edited with nail-biting suspense, the two women murder the headmaster and dump the body in the swimming pool, but when the pool is drained no corpse is found. An unsettling and beautifully-paced study of betrayal, mistrust and guilt, Les diaboliques is atmospherically shot in black and white, its murky tones hauntingly echo the moral ambiguity of its principals.

An acknowledged influence on Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick among others, Les diaboliques is presented on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.

- Brand new High Definition transfer of the film from a new restoration of the original negative
- Audio commentary by Susan Hayward, author of Les diaboliques (Cine-file French Film Guides)
- Original Trailer
- Filmed interview with Ginette Vincendeau, French cinema scholar, critic and author
- Original Trailer
- Brand new writing on the film by author and critic Brad Stevens and a re-printed interview with Clouzot by Paul Schrader illustrated with stills and rare original set drawings by Léon Barsacq.
- Artwork presentation packaging including original posters and a newly commissioned artwork cover


Special Edition + Digital Copy [Blu-ray]

LABEL: Magnolia Pictures

Gareth Edwards
CAST: Kaulder Scoot McNairy, Sam Whitney Able
TAGLINE: After Six Years. They're No Longer Aliens. They're Residents.

PLOT: Six years ago NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A probe was launched to collect samples, but crashed upon re-entry over Central America. Soon after, new life forms began to appear there and half of Mexico was quarantined as an INFECTED ZONE.Today, the American and Mexican military still struggle to contain "the creatures"... Our story begins when a US journalist agrees to escort a shaken American tourist through the infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the US border

FILM: It seems NASA and their exploration of space have completely fucked over the people of Earth by carelessly collecting samples of a alien life from Jupiter's moon Europa which promptly burns up in the atmosphere upon re-entry and spreads an alien organism over the northern Mexican territories and six days later Lovecraftian neon-octopi sprout forth. It's been six years and the creatures have taken over pretty much all of northern Mexico and both borders are heavily fortified and guarded by the Mexican and United States Armed Forces.  Down Mexico way Andrew (Scoot McNairy) is a freelance photojournalist out to make a name for himself by documenting the infected zone but he's been reluctantly assigned to guide the boss's injured daughter Samantha (Whitney Able) out of the increasingly dangerous area. His assignment is to get Samantha to a ship leaving for the United States in two days time. Hopping a train they arrive at the coastal city there and buy a ticket for the ferry.  All is going according to plan and the two make a night on the town but their drunken shenanigan cause her to miss the boat the next morning, which just happened to be the last transport before the navy quarantined the area. With few options left they resort to hiring a band of  gun-toting smugglers who will guide them through the infected zone to the US border. The adventure is frought with danger and takes them up a river and through other exotic Mexican jungle locations. Adding to the sense of realism to the film Edwards has populated the landscape with some rather nifty scenes of war-torn destruction that adds an element of urgency to the film.

I think anyone going into MONSTERS (2010) hoping for a GODZILLA type giant creatures on the attack film might be sorely disappointed though this is actually a bit like a mumblecore version CLOVERFIELD (2008). The film is focused on our two young human characters as their relationship goes from tenuous partnership through the infected zone to something more meaningful - that's right, at it's heart Monsters is indeed a love story. This may turn off  some viewers as it's a pretty subtle evolution and not overly dynamic either. For a film titled Monsters this is a quiet and very human-centric film. I knew going in this would be more a road film than a creature feature but I couldn't help want for more action, more intensity mostly due to the fact that I found the creatures to be so intriguing. The creatures are there but more in the background and not explored enough in my opinion. Monsters is less a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller than it is a meandering travelogue through Mexico peppered with well-acted subtle human drama, some striking visuals and the occasional creature encounter.

DVD: MONSTERS comes to Blu-ray in a great looking 16:9 enhanced 2:35:1aspect ratio. The film is gorgeous in eye-popping 1080p with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround. Though the film is not overly bombastic the surrounds are well utilized and give a real sense of depth to the proceedings particularly in the jungles settings as you find yourself surrounded by the sounds of nature and the eerie alien trilling sound. Not only is there a wealth of bonus content but a digital copy of the film as well.

- Audio Commentary with Gareth Edwards, Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (20:07)
- Behind the Scenes of Monsters (1:09:15)
- Monsters: The Edit (21:31)
- Visual Effects (34:56)
- Interview with Gareth Edwards (44:16)

- Interview with Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able (28:04)
- New York Comic Con Discussion with Gareth Edwards (5:02)
- HDNet: A Look at Monsters (4:40) .
- Trailers: Ong Bak 3, All Good Things, Night Catches Us, Vanishing on 7th Street, Rubber

VERDICT: Like DISTRICT 9 I found MONSTERS is an interesting take on the alien invasion genre, it's almost entirely character driven and despite it's moniker delivers precious few creatures encounters but when they do show on screen up it's thrilling stuff. I give this a recommend with the caveat that you should be aware that this is not a thrills-a-minute alien apocalypse tale this is something more subtle and rooted in the human struggle following an alien infestation. Up next for director Gareth Edwards is a new GODZILLA film, natch.  ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Monday, February 7, 2011

DVD REVIEW: Vamp (1986)

VAMP (1986) DVD
Release Date: February 21st 2011

LABEL: Arrow Video
DIRECTOR: Richard Wenk
CAST: Grace Jones, Robert Rusler, Dedee Pfeiffer, Sandy Baron
TAGLINE: The Lady is a Vamp!

PLOT: At school, getting into the right fraternity can be a matter of life or death. Keith and AJ need to hire a stripper to entertain the brothers or their college days are over. In a shady after hours joint they find an adult entertainer like no other when they step into the world of sharp-fanged Katrina. Have these two freshmen bitten off more than they can chew? Stuck on the wrong side of town, on a dark night and surrounded by a plague of alien blood suckers... The answer is definitely yes!

FILM: Typically when an Arrow Video releases something I've seen it, it's been a part of my cinematic life and I've owned it several times over and the Arrow edition is an easy upgrade due to the superior audio and visual presentations plus the amazing extras; booklet, posters, art options. In the case of BATTLE ROYALE (2000) and DEADLY OUTLAW: REKKA (2002) they were titles I've long heard about and intended on catching up with eventually and the Arrow editions just sped up my viewing of these films. Then there's VAMP (1986) a film I've seen time and time again in the used bins at my favorite haunts for years and never once have I ever had the inclination to snag it. Full disclosure: I didn't seek this out either, it's a screener but that's neither here not there. Why didn't I want to see this film initially? I think it was a combination of perceived cheese and the novelty of 80's icon Grace Jones. I think that's what made me shun this title for so long. Was it worth the wait?

Two fun-loving and very 80's fraternity pledges Keith (Chris Makepeace) and A.J. (Robert Rusler) are taking part in a ridiculously over-the-top Gothic-themed college fraternity initiation when things go awry, it's very silly stuff. The frat seems pretty lame but they want in cuz what better place to meet girls and have a blast than in the den of inequity that is a frat house and it beats living in the dorm, right? To procure their entrance into the hallowed halls of keggers A.J. promises to procure some a stripper for a party. Why, cuz it's the 80's man, that's what college kids do! Problem is the campus is located quite a distance from the city and our duo have no wheels. They hit up young college entrepreneur Duncan (Gedde Watanabe) who will let them borrow a car but only if they pretend to be his friend for a week - such an 80's conceit, love it. The trio hit the road headed for the Big Apple and find themselves at a diner where they run into a gang of hoods led by an albino Billy Drago. After a brief confrontation the trio make for the suitably sleazy After Dark Club where Vic (Sandy Baron) the doorman/MC who makes sure they have the proper credential - cash and credit cards, meeting his criteria they are allowed in. Once inside they meet a cocktail waitress named Amaretto (Dedee Pfieffer) and then witness a very quirky striptease by Queen Katrina (Grace Jones) and what an avante-garde performance piece it is, not your usual titty jiggle that's for sure. Katrina comes out decked in a bright-orange fright wig, chrome brassier, piercing blue eyes, her entire face pained ghostly white and her body is painted with intricate markings. I can't say I was turned on but I was definitely weirded-out by it. After the stunning performance A.J. goes back stage to approach Katrina about stripping at the college kegger. This is when we discover that the strip club is a cover for a coven of vampires and Vic the MC is really a Vegas-style Renfield. Katrina seduces and drinks the blood of A.J.  leaving  Keith and his new found friend Amaretto to try escape the vampires or survive until dawn, whichever happens comes first.

The cover art of the previous Anchor Bay edition of Vamp featuring Grace Jone's Queen Katrina has always turned me off which is unfortunate because Vamp is a really enjoyable 80's horror comedy. Keith and A.J. exemplify the wise cracking bosom buddies of the 80's, they have great chemistry particularly Robert Rusler as Keith. He's the very likable asshole from every eighties film ever. Dedee Pfieffer as the cutesy Amaretto is an adequate love interest and Grace Jones as the exotic Queen Katrina is both sexual and frightening. I loved Sandy Baron's as the Renfield character though I think the film could have done without the character of Duncan as portrayed by Gedde Watanabe who displays none of the charm of his Long Duk Dong character from SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984) and is relegated to third-wheel Asian sidekick in a comedy here, it just didnt work for me. The humor is pure camp and borders on being satirical at times. The film definitely screams 80's with eighties music, zebra striped jackets, leggings, 80's fashions. The atmosphere is enhanced by the some garish 80's neon lighting that swaths nearly every scene in reds, green and purples. Not sure if they were going for Italian giallo feel or an EC Comics inspired visual here but it worked either way. I think the tone of the film is a bit uneven, it's comedic, then the horror ramps up and back to a comedy. It could have used a more even-handed approach bit it's still a fun watch.

DVD: Arrow Video's gives VAMP a brand new 16:9 enhanced 1.85:1 aspect ratio transfer with 2.0 mono audio which is adequate but I could not help but want for a sweet 5.1 surround sound mix if only for the filmscore. Vamp may be a 80's b-movie but Arrow have given it a generous amount of supplemental materials as well as including Arrow's great packaging extras; four panel reversible sleeve art options with new artwork and original posters, double-sided fold-out poster and a collector’s booklet written by Jay Slater critic and author of ‘Eaten Alive’.

- VAMP IT UP – Dedee Pfeiffer Remembers The After Dark Club(27:00)
Actress Dedee Pfieffer talks about the film, she's clearly affectionate about her experiences on the film, her feature film debut. She speaks about the director, her co-stars and Grace Jones plus her life after acting.
- VAMP STRIPPED BARE– An Interview with Richard Wenk (17:08)
- BACK TO THE 80's– Producing a Campy Cult Classic (21:41)
- SCRAPBOOK SCARES- Richard Wenk looks over his collection of Vamp memorabilia (8:08) Moderator Callum Wadell lokks though some scrapbooks with Wenk who apparently is an accomplished scrapbooker.
A rare look at the rehearsals for the film featuring Grace Jones and director Wenk as a stand-in for Robert Rusler. Jones is manhandling and licking and biting Wenk.
- DRACULA BITES THE BIG APPLE - short film by Richard Wenk (21:08)
This is the short film by director wank that aired on HBO and is credited with bringing him to the attention of producer Borchers, a good campy watch.

VERDICT: I sat down to watch VAMP (1987) assuming the worst and was pleasantly surprised at the film I found, an underrated campy 80's horror-comedy. It's goofy, very light-hearted and has some decent special effects. Not quite on par with FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) but in right behind it. Definitely a lower-level b-movie but with a few beers and a bowl full of popcorn this is a Hell of a watch. If you love kooky 80's horror-comedies this is for you.  *** (3 out of 5 stars)