Friday, June 28, 2013

Blu-ray Review: 6 SOULS (2010)

6 SOULS (2010) 

Label: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release Date: July 2nd 2013
Region Code: A
Duration: 112 Minutes
Rating: R
Audio: English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 with Optional English and Spanish Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Cast: Julianne Moore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jeffrey DeMunn, Nate Corddry 
Director: Mårlind and Stein 

Ginger-haired fox Julianne Moore is the faith-challenged forensic psychologist named Dr. Cara Harding whom loves to dissect, dispute and disprove cases of so-called multiple personality disorder. When she's brought in on a case by her psychiatric father (Jeffrey DeMunn, The Walking Dead) she's introduced to a patient named Adam (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Mission Impossible III)) whom is wheelchair bound and supposedly afflicted with multiple personalities. Strangely the personalities seem to be those of deceased people and not purely creations of his fractured psyche. When Adam's other personalities begins to manifest he convulses violently, his demeanor changes as does his accent, more shocking is that he regains the use of his legs, it's pretty weird and I gotta say that at this point I was sucked in, really thought this one was going somewhere interesting, and it does to a point.   

Seeking answers to case Dr. Harding ends up tracking down one of the family members of "David", one of Adam's personalities. She finds the mother (Frances Conroy, The Woods) in a rural part of the state and invites her to come see the patient to help disprove the diagnosis of multiple personality disorder, but the encounter is unnerving and would tend to lend credibility to it's legitimacy. Returning to the rural mountainous region Harding seeks a witchy persona knows as "Granny" and then things get weirder while the story quickly loses cohesion and what started as a promising psychological thriller devolves into a rather attractively-shot supernatural Lifetime Channel movie, but attractive though it may be it's still a Lifetime Channel movie, and despite what Mythbusters has taught me you just can't polish a turd, which may be why this feature film sat on shelf for three years before being dumped on Blu-ray without a theatrical release. 

Blu-ray: 6 Souls (2010) gets a very decent 1080p transfer on Blu-ray presented in the widescreen scope aspect ratio (2.35:1) from Anchor Bay Entertainment. It's an attractively shot film with some spooky atmosphere, it looks quite good in 1080p with strong colors and some decent fine detail, some crush artifacts do show up during the many low-light situations from time to time but overall this is a very solid hi-def presentation. 

The  5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is very nice, the 5.1 exports creepy score and effects to the surrounds creating an enveloping audio experience. Dialogue is always clear and crisp and John Frizzell's stinger-laden score comes through with some nice depth and clarity. 

This straight-to-VOD release gets no bonus content whatsoever; no trailer, no commentary and no alternate ending, it gets the classic straight to video release from Anchor Bay. 

Verdict: There are some interesting ideas hatched onscreen here and  I was really holding on for something special but the script and execution are quite a mess. Props to Julianne Moore and Jonathan Rhys Meyers for strong performances but even their valid attempt to breath life into this is indecisive thriller can't resuscitate it. On the plus side, my wife, who sorta hates horror but loves generic thrillers,  found it quite entertaining. By no means am I suggesting this is a purchase but should you spy it on Netflix or Redbox and need something to watch with the wife that won't make you wanna gouge your eyes out, if not exactly satisfy you, just maybe... 2.5 Outta 5 


Today Scream Factory surprised everyone by announcing even MORE cheap thrills on the horizon with“Volume 2” of the SCREAM FACTORY ALL-NIGHT HORROR MARATHON series is coming soon!

Another fun and frightening multi-title DVD set is scheduled to land on October 29th. Titles include:

THE DUNGEONMASTER (1984) – Original story by Empire Pictures’ Charles Band. 
1.78:1. All all-new transfer that includes a pre-credit dream sequence missing from the Lightning Video VHS.

CATACOMBS (1988) – From Director David Schmoeller (Tourist Trap, Crawlspace, Puppetmaster) 
16x9 1.66

CELLAR DWELLER (1988) – From Director John Carl Buechler (Troll, Friday the 13th Part 7) 
 4x3 full frame

CONTAMINATION 7 (1993) – From Director Joe D’Amato (Ator: The Fighting Eagle, Emmanuelle in Bangkok) 

All 4 films have never been on DVD before and you can get them for a super low $9.99 SRP.

Pre-order links on, Amazon and other fine online retailers coming soon!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

DVD Review: THE GRAND DUEL (1972)


Label: Blue Underground

Region Code: Region FREE NTSC
Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (2.35:1)
Duration: 94 Minutes
Rating: R

Director: Giancarlo Santi
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Alberto Dentice, Jess Hahn, Horst Frank, Klaus Grunberg

The Grand Duel (1972) is the debut feature film from director Giancarlo Santi whom was second unit director on Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) among others, it turns out he could shoot a pretty great Spaghetti Western, too. The film stars a face quite familiar to the Euro-Western genre, the steely-eyed Lee Van Cleef (Escape from New York) as Sheriff Clayton, a lawman stripped of his star on the trail of a Phillip Wermeer (Alberto Dentice) whom stands accused of murdering the patriarch of the crooked Saxon clan. 

At the top of the film Clayton catches up with Wermeer in Gila Bend, Arizona. Complicating the apprehension of the fugitive is the arrival of a band of bounty hunters out for the reward on his skull. Clayton's not about to hand him over to the low lifes and actually assists in helping Wermeer evade his would-be captors, there's a rather elaborate and unrealistic escape sequence with Wermeer using a falling corpse and a wagon to launch himself to freedom, this is a frenetic actioner at times and the action looms large in this scrappy western. While the jailbird temporarily regains his freedom at some point the sly-eyed sheriff captures him, however, instead of turning him over to be hanged the two men form an uneasy partnership, the motivations for which boil down to each man seeking justice,  which ties directly to the three surviving Saxon sons who want nothing more than to see Wermeer hanged for their father's death.

The brothers Saxon make for a great trio of villains, there's a corrupt politician, a crooked sheriff and a despicable, scar-faced brother who guns down an unarmed old man outside of a saloon, just to prove what a piece of shit he really is. Each of the brother's get some depth to 'em, not too deep mind you, but just enough to make 'em interesting. Who actually gunned down the Saxon patriarch is a point of contention and we get some nice monochromatic flashbacks to that fateful night at the rail station, small touches like this reinforce the notion that this is definitely an above average watch as Spaghetti Westerns go, these Euro cowboy films are like surf-rock and ska-punk - there's only a handful of decent ones for every hundred or so, and the late-60's and early 70's were lousy with imported westerns, thankfully we have great distributors like Blue Underground to help sort through the chaff. . 

The Grand Duel comes sorta late in the Euro-western game but Giancarlo Santi's film is stylish, violent and not without some humor, this is fun stuff that plays very much like a old west buddy cop variation on the typical western revenge story. Van Cleef is fantastic as the silent but deadly lawman Clayton, Dentice plays off Van Cleef's straight man to great effect, the two make for a entertaining duo. We get some great dusty set pieces and it's packed gun-slinging action and fun, over-the-top stunt work  at one point Van Cleef's character catches a bullet in his teeth, so there's definitely a sense of fantasy at play here but it never devolves into a send-up of the genre, this is a mighty fine Euro-Western with everything you'd expect and a few surprises to keep things interesting

DVD: Blue Undergrounds dual-layered DVD edition of The Grand Duel has been transferred in hi-def from the original Italian negative and fully restored for this release, and it looks mighty fine. There's minimal print damage and a nice layer of fine film grain, the new hi-def transfer definitely passes muster with strong sun-drenched colors and a fair amount of depth for a standard-def image, occasionally it appears soft but overall this is a great looking edition, wish BU had the Blu-ray right to this one. 

The English Dolby Digital mono audio does it's job but not much more, the dubbed dialogue is crisp but there's the expected lack of depth to the proceeding, Luis Bacalov's haunting score sounds quite nice, fans of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol.1  (2003) will most definitely recognize the film's memorable theme. 

Special feature's include an audio commentary from journalists C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke who provide an informative and entertaining accompaniment to the feature, there's no dead air-and what's said is quite interesting, particularly for myself who knew little about the director and not much about the genre. We also get a Theatrical Trailer (2:55) for the film and a Spaghetti Western Trailer Reel (26:31). 

Verdict: The Grad Duel is pretty cool, scorched sun and sweat Spaghetti Western with a very nice presentation from Blue Underground. It's is a keeper, Lee Van Cleef was never cooler onscreen than with what he throws at us here, it's not usurping Sergio Leon'e Dollars Trilogy for Spaghetti Western supremacy but it's a definite recommend. 3 Outta 5 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013



Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 100 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with Optional English SDH Subtitles 
Video: 10801 Widescreen (1.71:1) 
Director: Justin McConnell

Over the course of a few years Canadian filmmaker Justin McConnell follows Toronto-based cardboard warrior Greg Sommer around documenting the man behind the Canadian chapter of Box Wars. Alongside a small group of dedicated cardboard warriors the craft GWAR-styled armor from cardboard and duct tape to compete in gladiator-esque battles against one another until just one victorious warrior is left standing. At these Box War events Greg dons a signature skull mask becoming his alter-ego, the mighty Skull Man! 

In his thirties Greg Sommer is a gravedigger at the local cemetery whom rents living space from his middle-aged parents and rocks large to the glorious sounds of Clutch while decked out in denim and a selection of sweet metal t-shirts, he surrounds himself with a band of warrior-nerd friends and is about the most positive thinker you could ever imagine, it's hard to not love this guy. It's an unconventional and odd lifestyle, some might consider it a bit loser-ish, but they'd be quite wrong. McConnell has assembled quite an entertaining and fist-pumping documentary with some in-your-face battle scene that made me wanna jump off the couch and craft a cardboard mace and a suit of armor to get in on the action. Sommer and his band of merry cardboard mace-makers look like their having so much fun, it's pretty infectious. 

McConnell balances the cardboard gladiator fights with some revealing man-behind-the-skull footage exploring Greg Sommers when he's not in the character of Skull Man and he's absolutely a charismatic and fascinating guy. There's some great footage of a teen Greg filming a weird public access style cable variety show and a bizarre graduation speech which gives us a neat origin story for Sommer and Skull Man. McConnell also captures on film Greg's own spiritual quest with excursions into shamanism, spiritual mediums and the search for extraterrestrial life, he's a pretty deep guy underneath that metal-head exterior, Skull Man's got questions, just like the rest of us. 

Turns out that Box Wars is a worldwide phenomena and there's a cool excursion to Melbourne Australia where he meets the Aussie chapter of the cardboard crew and enters into battle with as an honored guests, all this leads up to the possibility of a Skull Man Box Wars television program starring Skull Man, which I . 

Sommer is such a positive dude but I found myself waiting for the switch to be flipped revealing some dark secret which would cast the dude in a negative light, turns out I'm just a cynical little bitch and this never happens - he's just a glorious dude who loves to rock large and wage cardboard war. Long Live Skull Man and the cardboard carnage! 

Blu-ray: The Skull World Warrior Edition Blu-ray from Unstable Ground comes with 2 audio commentaries, 7 extended segments, 16 deleted scenes, trailers and galleries plus a selection of Blu-ray exclusives including 5 deleted scenes, The Overfield "Maiden"  music video, Skull World’ Premiere, the self-produced pilot episode of Skull Man's Box Wars and some easter eggs nestled away for you to find, a very well equipped disc. 

Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary with director Justin McConnell and Greg Sommer/Skull Man
- Audio Commentary ‘Skull Man’s Rockin’ Commentary Experience’.
- 7 Extended segments and battles, including the full-length Australia trip
- 16 deleted scenes
- Trailers,

- Photo galleries
- Easter Eggs
- 5 additional deleted scenes*
- Full-length “Skull Man’s Box Wars” self-produced television pilot*
- ‘Skull World’ Premiere Q+A video (at the Canadian Film Festival 2013)*
- Music video: The Overfiend “Maiden” w/ behind the scenes featuring Greg*
- ‘Skull Man’s Pit Files’ music video *

*“Warrior Edition” Blu-Ray Exclusive Special Features

Verdict: Skull World just pulls you right into it's nutty mayhem, it brought me back to re-enacting episodes of the He-Man TV show in my backyard in very much the same way with my friends as a kid, cardboard swords and all! Skull World is a fist-pumping, cardboard sword swinging good time, definitely a documentary with some cult classic potential and a heck of an entertaining watch. 3.5 Outta 5 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Blu-ray Review: THE BROOD (1979)

THE BROOD (1979)
Label: Second Sight Films 
Release Date: July 8th 2013
Rating: Cert: 18
Duration: 92 Minutes
Region Code: B
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Audio: English LPCM 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Oliver Reeed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle, Cindy Hinds 

Director David Cronenberg poured his personal life into this creepily horrific thriller, having had to forcefully remove his own daughter from the clutches of a cult his nutty wife was involved with, plus a bitter divorce. That personal pain all here on screen in some twisted way and his own personal pain informs the movie quite a bit. 

Frank Cavareth's (Art Hindle, Black Christmas) estranged wife Nola (Samanatha Eggar) is at the Somefree Institute run by psychologist Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) whom treats patients with mental illness with a controversial therapy that involves intense role-playing regression sessions designed to unleash suppressed emotional disturbances, not unlike the primal scream therapy, only with horrific side effects, we will get to in a bit. It turns out that as a young girl Nola was abused by her alcoholic mother and her father wasn't much help either, now an adult she carries around the mental scars of an abusive upbringing, she's pretty fucked up and her demons are physically manifesting themselves in the material world. 

Nola's five year-old daughter Candice remains with her mother at the Institute and on weekends Frank takes her home to his place. One such visit with his daughter reveals bruising and welts on her backside, disturbed by the discovery and fearing abuse from her nutty mom he threatens to revoke the disturbed mother's visitation rights, which upsets her and Raglan quite a bit. Now things get strange, those whom Nola's has animosity toward are murdered in a series of brutal attacks perpetrated by what appear to be deformed children whom bare peculiar anatomical anomalies. As the attacks continue Frank starts to believes they are somehow linked to Nola and her therapy at Somafree. 

The Brood is a creepy film, it's not exactly oozing with blood and guts but the attacks are quite satisfying, both Nola's mother and father are brutally beaten to death, also murdered is a school teacher whom shows some concern for Candice, two deformed pint-sized killers beat her to death in front of a roomful of screaming students,  which was pretty brave, nowadays it be hard to pull that off and get away with it. The deformed kids abduct Candice which leads to an intense finale at the Somafree Institute with one Hell of a grotesque birthing scene, this is a suspenseful film with some great tension building from the very start, it's Cronenberg so you know to at least expect some potent body horror and the film does not disappoint. 

Cronenberg was fresh off Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1976) and The Brood (1979) was definitely his most polished film to date with some help from cinematographer Mark Irwin, it's a great looking feature. The creepy dwarf killers are caught mostly in quick glimpses but feature some disturbing facial appliances and clawed hands from special make-up effects man Jack H. Young who worked on everything from the Wizard of Oz (1939) right up to Used Cars  (1980), the effects are  somewhat cheap looking but effective just the samwe. There's not a lot of gore for the fiends but that birthing scene towards the end is still a stunner, it's grotesque and gooey. 

There's some nice performances onscreen, first and foremost is Art Hindle (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) as the caring father, his desperate plight to save his daughter from her demented mother is very convincing.  Then there's Samantha Eggar (The Exterminator) as the distressed and unhinged mother, plus Oliver Reed (Burnt Offerings) who's quite intense and brooding, always a roguish leading man he's still quite a presence onscreen as the psychologist treating Nola. 

Blu-ray: Second Sight Films get a second bite at the David Cronenberg apple following their recent Blu-ray release of the director's next film Scanners (1981). The Brood is presented in 1080p widescreen (1.85:1) with an AVC encode and it's quite an attractive region 'B' locked Blu-ray. Sourced for a very nice print the image is strong, colors are robust and black levels are nice and deep. The 1080p upgrade affords it some modest fine detail and some decent depth and clarity, a very nice transfer. 

The English language LPCM 2.0 Stereo audio sounds very nice, dialogue and effects are crisp and well balanced, plus Howard Shore's (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) sounds fantastic, the intense string arrangements really ramp up the tension and atmosphere, very nice.

Special features come by way of Severin Films who did a bang-up job with Second Sight's Scanners (1981) edition and I think they've one-upped themselves here with no only retrospective interview with cast and crew but with David Cronenberg whom was absent on the scanners features. 

First up is the MEET THE CARVETHS (19:48) featuring actors Art Hindle and Cindy Hinds interviewed by Fangoria Editor Chris Alexander at filmed at the Projection Booth Theatre in Canada. It's a fn interview with Hindle recalling working with Oliver Reed and some of his Scotch induced hi jinx both on and off set, Hinds even recalling Reed pilfering her mother's bottle of cognac.

THE LOOK OF RAGE (13:33) is a fun on-camera interview with cinematographer Mark Irwin which looks to be culled from the same interview session as the Scanners featurette. Irwin talks about meeting David while filming the AIP drag racing tribute film Fast Company (1979) and having written a thesis on Cronenberg's early films prior to meeting him. He also touches on working with Oliver Reed and his infamous liquid lunches plus Samantha Eggar whom he recalls turned into a candy sculpture during the filming of the birthing scene.

We get a new interview with producer Pierre David PRODUCING THE BROOD (11:10) also pulled from the same interview session as Scanners. David reflects on that period of time in Canada when investors were falling over themselves to finance Canadian film due to a tax shelter from the Canadian government. he goes into working with Cronenberg on the three films they did together and how that partnership sorta fell apart when he couldn't quite warp his head around Cronenberg's idea for Naked Lunch, he of course also mentions working with wild man Oliver Reed.

CHARACTER FOR CRONENBERG (10:24) is an interview with actor Robert A. Silverman (Prom Night) whom recalls a devastating car accident which left him an invalid and his miraculous recovery followed by a move to L.A. to pursue acting and his subsequent meeting with Cronenberg.

CRONENBERG: THE EARLY YEARS (13:15) has the Writer/Director David Cronenberg discussing his early career following his first two short films, working with adult film distributors turned financiers Cinepix on his first feature length film Shivers (1975) and having a hard time financing Rabid (1977) following a scathing review in Canadian press, plus horror's eternal place in cinema. 

Special Features:
- THE LOOK OF RAGE (13:33) 

Verdict: There's so much great stuff in Cronenberg's filmography and The Brood (1979) gets short shrift compared to Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986). I personally prefer both of his earlier films Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977) to this, not to knock it, this is still a powerful and creepy little thriller with some strong performances and a very bizarre ending, it holds up. 3.5 Outta 5 

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Drive-In Collection Double Feature DVD 

Label: Vinegar Syndrome

Rating: Unrated
Duration: 87 / 81 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Pat Boyette, Ken Friedman
Cast:  Russ Harvey, Lee Morgan, William McNulty/Shelby Leverington, Denver John Collins

Vinegar Syndrome continue to unearth and spit-shine obscure exploitation and horror cheapies, this timeout it's a double feature of two gritty, low-rent schlock-fests beginning with a shabby title I've seen previously on Mill Creek's Pure Terror budget collection. Already having one drunken viewing of this one under my belt I was a little bit less than thrilled to be enduring it again. It begins with a seizure inducing title credit sequence and one of the shabbiest toy boast in a tub sequences you've ever witnessed in your life, it's just awful. Surviving this sea wreck are Count Aaron Fallon (Russ Harvey) and the doomed-ship's Captain (Lee Morgan) whom are washed ashore on what they believe to be a deserted island.  This turns out not to be the case and Count Lorente de Sade (William McNulty) lives in a creepy waterfront castle with his black man-servant Mantis (Maurice Harris) who sports a silver head of hair, passing more than a passing resemblance to NBA bad boy, and friend to North Korea's Kim Jong-Un, Dennis Rodman. 

The Baron is quite obviously insane and hates pirates with a passion for reasons never quite explained, other than perhaps he's crazy, unfortunately the Baron suspects the two shipwrecked survivors are pirates and subjects the Captain to tortures while the Count for some reason gets to mostly have his run of the Castle. Also on the island are a young woman named Cassandra (Helen Hogan) as a love interest, a servant girl and a weird, diseased woman locked away in the castle's dungeon.

There's some fun to be had here for fans of schlock-cinema, this is a z-grade cult film making at it's worst... or best, your mileage may vary. Aside from the aforementioned spectacle of the miniature boat tomfoolery we have an apparition whom taunts the Baron with rubber snakes and spiders, some unintentionally humorous melodramatic narrative and a few cool dungeon scenes which evoke Mario Bava's Gothic style by way of Roger Corman's The Terror (1963) on the shoe-string budget of someone as charmingly inept as Andy Milligan. 

An amateurish film on all levels, a sad state of cinema with the worst kind of campy overacting you can imagine, it's just awful. On one other hand you have to admire the efforts of comic artist turned first-time director Pat Boyette who worked for Warren Publications on titles like Eerie and Creepy. The guy single handedly wrote, directed, edited, scored and from what I know created the set pieces and miniatures for the film, it's a true passion project. While that passion never really shows up onscreen if you love bad cinema you will certainly enjoy The Dungeons of Harrow. 

The second feature Death by Invitation (1971) is a 20th century witchcraft revenger starring Shelby Leverington. The films opens in Holland circa 1650 as a suspected witch is being persecuted and put to death by an angry mob of pasty-faced villagers, flash ahead three hundred years and we are somehow in 1970's Staten Island, New York where a descendant of the witch seeks bloody revenge on her persecutor's descendants, the Vroot family, including pompous patriarch Peter Vroot (Aaron Philips).

The descendant of the witch, the attractive Lise (Shelby Leverington), infiltrates the Vroot family through a chance encounter at the park, it's just that easy. After a dinner party she meets up with Peter's teen son Roger Vroot (Denver John Collins) back at her place where she tells him the strange story of the 'Seven Tribes' and how women of this sect were the hunters while the men where subservient, I was never quite sure what the heck this had to do with anything, but just the same when she's done reciting her tale she kills him, and the death scene is quite a let down, and sadly there's not a decent kill to be had anywhere for the duration of the film. 

After young Roger goes missing the Vroots alert the authorities who are about as dip-shitted as you can imagine, with no thought or reasoning behind their logic they surmise he's probably just run off and will eventually show up somewhere strung out on dope. After two bodies turn up at the Vroot house the cops still are not a presence, and all the while the sympathetic Lise is there comforting the Vroot clan during their time of need all the while she secretly decimates their numbers in quick succession, well maybe not quick succession, there's a lot of dead space in this film and you feel it drag, second my second. . 

Again, not a great film but the production at least is more cohesive than The Dungeons of Harrow, this is pretty tolerable, however, there's still a metric shit-ton of head scratching weirdness to enjoy, including a befuddling detour at Peter's office as his oldest daughter's boyfriend Jake is given the runaround by secretaries while he navigates a labyrinthine maze of office hallways followed by a meeting with Peter in which their voices are drowned out by muzak, it's the strangest sort of of running time padding, it just don't make no sense. 

One of my favorite scenes has the youngest Vroot girl walking in on Lise decapitating her sister and then falling down the stairs in utter shock to her own demise, it's surprisingly effective. Later in the film as Lise attempts to seduce a very willing Jake while she spews the same Seven Tribes bullshit but he shuts her up momentarily by jamming his tongue down her throat before casually date-raping her which leads to an utterly weird and confusing post-coitus "shock" finale.

This was a weird one, definitely not a classic of 70's witchcraft cinema but it's not without it's low-rent charm either. It plugs away with a weird synth-organ score generating some accidental atmosphere from time to time but never a sense of suspense or dread. The acting, whew, what a stinker! Shelby Leverington is sorta decent in the role of the seductive murderess, she's effectively distant and odd in a Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971) sorta way.  Watching the film I was never quite sure if Lise was the reincarnation of the witch or possessed by her spirit, we're treated to some effective flashbacks but the mechanics of what was transpiring was confusing. Aaron Philips as the Vroot patriarch, now that's a special kind of acting all together, the variety usually reserved for Ed Wood films, so awful it's rather awesome. Overall, a pretty dull film with an interesting witchcraft premise, the kills are just lame but this one is infused with some accidental weirdness that makes for a fun watch. 

DVD: Vinegar Syndrome present both features in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and are scanned in 2K from archival elements, probably not the original film negatives. This might be the first time that The Dungeons of Harrow has been given a widescreen release, it looks much nicer than I remember it appearing on previous edition, while the colors are decent the print is marred with damage, the mono audio is muffled, while it's never quite hard to decipher it's not great either. Death by invitation (1971) has a much better video presentation, there's some minor print damage throughout but the colors are more vibrant and the image is sharper with some modest fine detail and clarity, the audio is a mixed-bag, not muffled but quality varies from scene to scene and there's quite a bit of hiss, crackle and pop throughout, it's not terrible but it's noticeable. Special features are limited to a commentary track by crew from The Hysteria Continues Podcast which I highly recommend, it's a surprisingly informative track, the crew are entertaining, funny and produce an awesome slasher-centric podcast that you should subscribe to on iTunes. 

Verdict: A fun low-budget double feature from Vinegar Syndrome, The Dungeon of Harrow (1962) looks quite nice compared to previous versions but it's still a shit film with some intrinsic schlock value. Death By Invitation (1971) is a modestly entertaining witchcraft revenger punctuated by long periods of boredom and a weird synth-organ score, not a double feature for the average horror fan but definitely one form lover's of demented 70's schlock cinema. 2.5 Outta 5 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Blu-ray Double Feature 

Label: Mill Creek Entertainment

Region Code: A
Duration: 69/92 Minutes 
Rating: Unrated / PG
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 with Optional SDH French and English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1) (2.35:1) 
Director: William Castle, Bernard McEveety
Cast: Ronald Lewis, Audrey Dalton, Guy Rolfe, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Oscar Homolka, Ahna Capri

Synopsis: This creepy horror classic is based on a novella by screenwriter Ray Russell (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes), and is brought to life by William Castle (13 Ghosts), master of terror! Desperate to retrieve a winning lottery ticket, a greedy baron unearths his father s corpse. An enormous jackpot is his reward, but not without a price his face is frozen permanently into a hideous grin. He enlists his fiendish one-eyed servant to help him lift this horrible curse, but their schemes fail. Finally, he turns to a noted neurosurgeon and his wife s former lover to cure him.

There's never a bad time to watch a William Castle production and tonight was definitely the time to watch Mr. Sardonicus (1961), it was hitting almost all of the right notes for me.  There's a great foggy London-set intro from William Castle himself, ever the showman he comes off as the schlocky Hitchcock, which is very appropriate. We're introduced to a London doctor named Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis, Scream of Fear) whom receives a letter from an old flame, Maude (Audrey Dalton, The Monster That Challenged the World) imploring him to visit her, apparently it's a matter of life and death. Once he arrives it's quickly revealed she was coerced into summoning him by her husband Baron Sardonicus, a real bastard played to perfection by Puppet Master 3's Guy Rolfe. The Baron wishes for Cargrave to cure him of a horrible affliction  the Baron  after unearthing his own father's corpse from the grave to obtain a winning lottery ticket he was stricken with a permanently grotesque smile across his face, this aspect reminded me of The Man Who Smiles (1939), if the doctor should refuse or fail to succeed in devising a treatment Maude's life hangs in the balance.

It was a blast to see Guy Rolfe as a younger man, loved him from the few Puppet Master entries from Full Moon. Early on in the film the Baron's face is hidden, shrouded in mystery beneath as mask, which was pretty great. Once the hideous affliction is revealed it's a whole new level of weird, he's a creepy villain and he comes with a one-eyed man servant named Krull (Oskar Homolka, The Seven Year Itch) who threatens to steal most of the scenes he appears in, it's great stuff. As great as Homolka is it's Guy Rolfe who definitely steals the show with his maniacal charisma, not to diminish a strong performance from Ronald Lewis as our hero and Audrey Dalton who turns in a smaller performance but as a sympathetic heroin she's quite fine.  

A fun watch, it drags from time to time, your mileage may vary depending on your temperance for black and white, it's a William Castle production so you just know that there's a gimmick, this time out it's a choose-your-own-ending feature, sorta. Unfortunately we don't get zapped in our asses with an electric shock but this is still an entertaining watch in the tradition of a twisty Twilight Zone episode. 

Synopsis: Children are mysteriously disappearing, their parents are being violently murdered and strangely enough, no one has been able to leave! When their car stalls, Ben and his family are stranded and are forced to join the sheriff, a priest and the prominent Doc Duncan in trying to unravel this frightening web of events. Suddenly, KT disappears, triggering a frantic search that results in the startling discovery of a deadly coven, led by Doc Duncan himself! Ben and the others must make a desperate attempt to stop these witches from performing a satanic ritual that transports their malevolent spirits into the innocent children thus creating yet another generation of satanic worshipers!

While not a William Castle production Bernard McEveety's The Brotherhood of Satan (1971) certainly owes a debt to the William Castle produced and Roman Polanski directed Rosemary's Baby (1968), a sweet slice of Satanic paranoia from producer L.Q. Jones who acted in many films including Martin Scorsese's Casino (1995) as well as producing and directing a few of his own, most notable the post-apocalyptic A Boy and His Dog (1975) featuring a very young Don Johnson (Django) and his telepathic dog, which I highly recommend!

The film begins with a great scene which sorta blurs the lines of reality and fiction as a bratty kid playing with a toy tank crushes and entire family in a station wagon, it's pretty bloody, too. Next scene were onto a family outing in the desert with, there's the father Ben Holden (TV's Charles Bateman) and his annoying daughter K.T. (Geri Reisch, I Dismember Mama), also along for the ride is Ben's girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri, Enter the Dragon). They're on the road when they come across the bloody and twisted wreckage from the start of the film, they do what pretty much anyone would and drive into the nearest village to alert the authorities. However, when they arrive the entire town is in a state of pure panic and paranoia, even the town Sheriff (L.Q. Jones) treats the family pretty hostile, a man attacks Ben with an ax screaming "You took them from me!" and the trio jump back in the car just barely escape the mob with their skulls intact. Driving down the road a ways Ben swerves to avoid striking the apparition of a young girl and the car is kaput, stranded on the side of the road as the noon day sun beats down they have few choices other than to head back to the strange village. 

Once there things are a bit less hostile but just as weird and only get weirder, the Sheriff and his Deputy (Alvy Moore, A Boy and His Dog) along with the priest (Charles Robinson, The Cable Guy) and the town doc Mr. Duncan (Strother Martin, The Wild Bunch) set about sleuthing the heinous murders of adult-population and the mysterious disappearance of the town's children. The townsfolk are stressed, sleep deprived, paranoid and at their wits end. It turns out a Satanic Cult is committing the ritualistic murders and turning the town's tots into Satanic occultists in an attempt to gain unholy immortality, and guess what, it's the grandfatherly doc that's the cult leader! 

This is such a great watch, Martin is amazing as the feisty cult leader, maniacal and just chewing up the scenery while leading a group of satanic seniors bent on immortality in services the the Dark Lord. It's drenched in great 70's atmosphere and there's a ton of blood and dismemberment for a PG film, one victim is clawed to death like skinned rabbit tossed into a chicken pen, it's pretty grotesque for PG rating! This schlocky Satanic nightmare is peppered with murderous children, creepy killer dolls, and spooky woods oozing with fog, this was quite the ocult production with some great set pieces.

The finale is superb and unhinged in all the right ways as the cult gather in an underground tomb to perform their unholy ritual with diabolically over-the top incantations "Greetings Dear One, 'Tis We!", only Burgess Meredith could have outdone Martin's elderly satanic MC, this is a fantastic watch and the only thing that irked me was Geri Reisch, who was quite an annoying child actor!

Blu-ray: Over the years Mill Creek has acquired a decent reputation for some very nice public domain budget collections if not for exactly known for stunning transfers but lately we've seen some rather nice 1080p presentations from 'em and I am impressed with what we get here. Both films licensed from the Sony/Columbia Pictures catalog receive pleasing AVC encodes in their original aspect ratios. Mr. Sardonicus' black and white cinematography is crisp and finely detailed with a nice grayscale and decent contrast levels, the print is not pristine and we do get the occasional white speckle but overall this is a fantastic presentation. The Brotherhood of Satan is presented in wonderful color, it's not exactly stunning but there's some nice film grain intact and along with it a pleasing amount of fine detail, it's a very attractive presentation. 

The double feature disc sports English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 with Optional SDH French and English Subtitles for both films and while it's free of annoying hiss, crackle and pops it's flat and pretty narrow in it's range, it's  acceptable and Von Dexter's eerie score for Mr. Sardonicus comes through quite nicely. The disc is bare-bones affair and there are no special features included but a very nice transfer and acceptable audio are much appreciated. 

Verdict: After the fantastic Happy Birthday to Me/When a Stranger Calls double feature Blu-ray this is my favorite Mill Creek title to date, a great 1080p transfer for two fantastic tales of terror! The Brotherhood of Satan is the highlight here, a colorfully creepy slice of satanic cinema that would make a great double-feature with Race with the Devil (1975). This budget-minded release gets a high recommend, so dig in! 4 Outta 5 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Blu-ray Review: BLOW OUT (1981)

BLOW OUT (1981)

Label: Arrow Video 

Region Code: B
Duration: 108 Minutes
Audio: English LPCM Audio English with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow

Brian De Palma’s rarely did it better that with this visceral thriller from 1981 brilliantly shot by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond with a fantastic performances from John Travolta, Nancy Allen and John Lithgow. It starts of wonderfully as we are thrown into a screening of the low-budget slasher Coed Frenzy with some great Halloween-esque POV camera work, it's deliciously plump with lurid images, gratuitous nudity and creepy stalking, as the camera tracks the slasher's movements at a college dormitory he works his way from voyeuristic peeping to stalking a co-ed in the steamy shower room, as the perp is about to plunge his blade into her voluptuous body she gives out the most groan-inducing scream you've ever heard, it's hilariously awful. 

We are pulled out of the film and it's revealed that a b-movie producer and his soundman Terry (John Travolta) has been tasked with capturing a more horrific scream and to come up with some less generic wind effects to lay over the film. To this end he heads out to the local park late one night to record some sounds effects when he witnesses a car lose control and careen into the nearby creek, the entire episode is caught on audio. Terry dives into the icy waters and drags a young woman named Sally (Nancy Allen, Dressed to Kill) from the submerged car to safety, we discover that the deceased driver of the car was the Governor and a Presidential hopeful and Sally was a paid escort, the whole affair definitely smacks of an inversion of the Ted Kennedy Chappaquiddick incident in '69. Afterward Terry listens to his audio recording of the incident and hears what he believes to be a gunshot just before the car tire blew out and it lost control before plunging into the drink, and the intrigue begins. 

Also figuring into the mystery are a seedy private eye with a name that just sounds so appropriately bottom-feederish, Manny Karp (Dennis Franz),  who just happened to be at the park the same night with a high-speed camera and catches the whole thing on a series of pictures. In a fantastic pre-Dexter appearance John Lithgow's Burke attempts to cover-up the assassination by staging a series of serial killings attributed to "the Liberty Bell Strangler". Jack befriends Sally at the hospital and the two begins sleuthing the assassination themselves when the cops prove expectantly useless, both are unaware they are being stalked by Burke, as the film plays out it's quite the nail-biter, the devastating rooftop finale is exquisite, this is a damn fine thriller. 

i think this is Travolta's finest work, he's a flawed protagonist, a very Hitchcockian character, just an ordinary guy caught up in a murderous web of intrigue and   Nancy Allen's Sally as Travolta's wide-eyed love interest is sorta a ditsy dame but with a pure heart, perhaps a bit annoying but pretty sympathetic and you completely feel for her character, the love story is never over-sugary, it's sorta cute and innocent. 

Blow Out is a superb and cynical thriller and it gets better with each viewing, it's helped in no small part by Zsigmond's gorgeous cinematography,he just pulls you right in and we get many of Brian De Palma's signature techniques, there's no shortage of spinning pans, split-screen, the split diopter lens and intricate tracking shots, this including a wonderfully slasher-riffic tracking shot at the start of the film which was lensed by the inventor of the steadicam, Garret Brown.  I love De Palma's voyeuristic  tendencies and there's a lot to enjoy here visually, this is great stuff.  Blow Out is completely engrossing watch, it's has great suspense, a tragic love story, a commentary on low-budget filmmmaking and a weird slasher element. It has pretty much everything you want from a thriller and probably a bit more plus it's a gorgeous film. 

Blu-ray: Blow Out comes to Blu-ray in the UK from Arrow Video with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p and it's gorgeous. I have the Criterion disc and at a glance it would appear to be the same director approved restored transfer, colors are true, there's some nice depth and clarity to the image and a fine layer of natural films grain, this is a very pleasing presentation. 

Audio is presented in English LPCM Audio English with Optional English SDH Subtitles and it does the job without resorting to an artificial 5.1 surround mix though to be honest that would have been nice, too. The film sports some very nice sound design but the uncompressed stereo track is nice with a good balance of dialogue, effects and Pino Donaggio's wonderful score come through crisply. 

Onto the Fiction Factory produced special features we get some great retrospective interviews with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, Nancy Allen producer George Litto and on-set photos by photographer Louis Goldman plus a theatrical trailer, it's great stuff and on par with Criterion's selection of extras. 

Black and White in Colour: An Interview with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (27:41) is a lengthy interview as the cinematographer touches on the red, white and blue theme featured throughout the film, something I never quite realized before. He also speaks of De Palma's love for the split diaptor lens, , the Garret Brown steadicam shot, shooting the Liberty Day Parade sequence. 

Rag Doll Memories: Nancy Allen on Blow Out (21:28), still quite a looker the starlet recalls the reception of the film upon release, the process that lead to working with  Travolta post-Carrie and her characters "rag doll" persona plus Ann Roth's costuming. She also goes into filming the underwater scenes despite her claustrophobia, working with John Lithgow and her character's fate plus dealing with some of the more scathing reviews of the film. 

Return to Philadelphia: An interview with Producer George Litto (18:37) features the always entertaining producer reflecting on the trio of films he produced with De Palma, securing financing with only a seven-page outline, casting the film, the theft of several reels of films during production and Al Pacino almost landing the lead.  

Multi-tracking Blow Out (28:06) features composer Pino Donaggio  speaking about his early career as a recording artist, scoring the film after original composer Bernard Hermann passed away, his use of synthesizers and orchestration. The interview is conducted in Italian with English subtitles.  

Features are finished-up with a Original Theatrical Trailer (1:45) and a gallery of on-set photos by photographer Louis Goldman. If I were going to nit-pick the edition it would be that it does not include a Brian De Palma short film. Arrow's Blu-ray of Obsession (1976) included both Wonton's Wake (1962) and The Responsive Eye (1966) while Criterion's Blow Out (1981) featured Murder a la Mod (1967), otherwise this is on par with the Criterion edition in A/V and features.

Special Features:
- Black and White in Colour: An Interview with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (27:41)
- Rag Doll Memories: Nancy Allen on Blow Out (21:28)
- Return to Philadelphia: An interview with Producer George Litto (18:37)

- Multi-tracking Blow Out (28:06)
- A gallery of on-set photos by photographer Louis Goldman
- Original Theatrical Trailer (1:45)

Verdict: A truly suspenseful watch from start to finish, Brian De Palma's Blow Out (1982) is the director's finest moment, it all comes together right here and Arrow's Blu-ray is top notch. Brian De Palma fans should be in a state of nirvana knowing that Arrow are also bringing The Fury (1978), Sisters (1973), Dressed to Kill (1980) and Phantom of the Paradise (1974) to Blu-ray in the very near future! Arrow's Blow Out gets a high recommend, essential. 4.5 Outta 5 

Saturday, June 15, 2013



Label: Shameless Screen Entertainment 
Region Code: 0 PAL
Duration: 85 Minutes
Rating: 18 Certificate
Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Christopher Connelly, Martha Taylor, Brigitta Boccoli, Giovanni Frezza, Cinzia de Ponti, Cosimo Cinieri, Andrea Bosic, Carlo De Mejo, Enzo Marino Bellanich, Mario Moretti, Lucio Fulci, Tonino Pulci

Ten-year old Susie Hacker (Martha Taylor) is on vacation in Egypt with archaeologist father George Hacker (Christopher Connelly) when she meets a strange, blind woman in the city bazaar whom gifts her with an ancient amulet with weird, inter dimensional powers. While excavating a cursed Egyptian tomb George is struck blind when an ancient jewel emits a blue laser-blast to his eyes, the effect is pure 80's awesomeness, it's fun stuff, even if dated. These opening scenes in Egypt are fantastic, perhaps a bit confusing, but Lucio Fulci was at top of his game in '82, these shots are atmospheric and creepy, particularly the gorgeously shot and spooky Egyptian tombs with secret passages, serpents, trap doors and spiked booby traps. 

The family returns to New York City where Professor Hacker is told by doctors that the blindness is only temporary, which is great for him but things just get weirder for his poor daughter Susie, strange things begin happening to those around her, there's some connection between the amulet and the tomb her father was exploring, you never quite comprehend just what the fuzz is actually going on, you might, but it's never explained to any satisfactory degree, which is just fine by me. A fun note,  Susie's younger brother Tommy is played by Giovanni Frezza, that spooky creeper kid Bob from Fulci's The House by the Cemetery (1981), the one with that awful dubbing, but worry not for he's not quite so annoying here.

Manhattan Baby really does come off as a head-scratching schlocky rip-off The Exorcist (1973) and Rosemary's Baby (1968) with a nasty nod to Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) but it's a bit more than just that, there's also a poorly conceived rip-off of the elevator death scene in Damien: Omen II (1979). Lucio Fulci and cinematographer Guigliemo Mancoro put some great images on-screen, sure some of the effects are super schlocky, the glowing doors, birds on wires, and the 80's laser effects come immediately to mind, but there's some decent gore effects, too. An early scene in Egypt features a great impalement and late in the film a roomful of stuffed birds wreak exquisite suffering on a para-psychologist, in the gore department it's not a complete disappointment, just a bit restrained by Fulci standard of the time. 

Story wise there's a lot of weird and unexplained events transpiring, you won't walk away from this with any real understanding of what you've just seen but the connective tissue of the film are suspenseful and intriguing, or at least pleasantly confusing. I think Fulci gets hammered on, perhaps not unjustly, for poor storytelling and this head-scratcher, penned by longtime collaborator Dardano Sacchetti (Zombi, New York Ripper), certainly won't dissuade that line of criticism.  However, if you have love for Lucio Fulci's The Beyond (1981) and City of the Living Dead (1980) or other Italian supernatural weirdies you will enjoy this one, it's pretty slim on the gore, quite restrained for this period of Fulci, but it's thick with creepy atmosphere and schlocky supernatural fun. 

DVD: Shameless Screen Entertainment present Lucio Fulci's Manhattan Baby (1982) in it's anamorphic original widescreen aspect ratio (2.35:1)  on a region 0 PAL formatted DVD. The print looks quite nice, there's a fine layer of film grain and the print is mostly free of minor scratches and damage. The transfer features strong vibrant colors and decent black levels. The English language Dolby Digital mono audio is well balanced and clean, dubbed dialogue and effects come through clear and  Fabio Frizzi's recycled score from The Beyond (1981) and City of the Living Dead (1980) sound fine, there's the usual odd English-dubbing funkiness but that's par for the course with  80's Italian features. There's not much by the way of special features unfortunately, no commentary or featurettes, but we get a selection of trailers and a reversible sleeve of artwork, but that's it. 

Special Features:

- Shameless Trailer Gallery (13:33): New York Ripper (1982), The Black Cat (1981), Torso (1973), Frightened Woman (1969) , Night Train Murders (1975)  
- Theatrical Trailer (3:03) 
- Sleeve of Reversible Artwork

Verdict: Not on par with Lucio Fulci's The Gates of Hell Trilogy but this supernatural scholcker is nothing to sneeze at, this is fun 80's schlock and it definitely gives me hope as to what I might discover further exploring Fulci's post-New York Ripper (1982) filmography. Prepare yourself for a "what the fuck did I just watch" sorta experience, you might never quite understand many of Lucio Fulci's films, you just sorta get a feel for 'em, and this one feels just about right for the period, a medium recommend. 3 Outta 5