Sunday, February 24, 2013

Blu-ray Review: SCORE (1972)




Radley Metzger's SCORE (1972)
Label: Arrow Video
Region: Region FREE
Rating: 18 Certificate
Duration: 84 min.Audio: Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 

Video: Widescreen (1.78:1) 1080p
Director: Radley Metzger

Cast: Claire Wilbur, Lynn Lowry, Calvin Culver, Gerald Grant, Carl Parker
Tagline: A Feast for the Erotic Gourmet

Synopsis: Score is the tale of a happily married swinging couple who make a bet that they can seduce a couple of naive young newlyweds during a weekend get-together at their luxury Riviera villa.


Score is a film by the arty erotic auteur Radley Metzger and is an adaptation of the 1971 Jerry Douglass play by the same that co-starred a 25-year-old Italian stallion by the name of Sylvester Stallone. The opening narrative sets the film up as a playful, erotic fairytale and the atmosphere is light-hearted and fun, it's a very farcical comedy at it's heart. The artful lensing and snappy dialogue made me forget this was a softcore film. Metzger's direction and gorgeous cinematography was superb, very stylishly shot. Jack (Gerald Grant) and Elvira (Claire Wilbur) are a couple of fun-loving bi-sexual swingers in the French Riviera, their relationship is defined by swinging parties and a friendly game of sexual one upsmanship between each other. After a night of orgiastic activities the couple make a bet amongst themselves. Each is betting they can seduce their same-sex counterparts in a newlywed couple of Betsy (Lynn Lowry) and Eddie (Calvin Culver).


Jack and Elvira come of as experienced and cunning swingers skilled in the art of seduction. Betsy and Eddie ...not so much. Betsy is a super-attractive, bright-eyed beauty, a bit naive as well. Her husband Eddie is a handsome young man and seems a bit on the bent-side of things. When the couple is introduced it is evident that they are having some intimacy difficulties in the bedroom.... hmm, I wonder what the problem is? Elvira and Jack have no such issues and their libidos are in full bloom throughout the film.


The interplay among the characters is well-crafted and fun to watch, very comedic stuff full of colorful dialogue and witty remarks, the characters are well formed and defined. The story is not the stuff of Shakespeare but it's whimsical and a fun watch as the storyline plays out. Be forewarned that the this is truly an erotic film that caters to all persuasions. But fear not, there are no graphic depictions of male-on-male penetration but it's pretty close, so just be informed. The sex scenes are filmed stylishly and look great. This is not sex on the screen soley for the sake of sex on the screen, it's intimate, fun and playful.


For me, the true find of the film was the super-cute star Lynn Lowry whom previously appeared in George A. Romero's plague film The Crazies (1972) as well as Lloyd Kaufman's softcore film Sugar Cookies (1973). She later went on to appear in David Cronenberg's Shivers (1975) and Paul Schrader's remake of the Val Lewton's classic Cat People (1982). She is a true beauty and is still appearing in film today including the remake of The Crazies and a few indie titles like Torture Chamber (2012) and the horror anthology The Theatre Bizarre (2011).


Blu-ray: Arrow Video's presentation appears to be sourced from the very same newly restored 1080p high definition transfer as we saw from Cult Epics a few years ago, and it's quite a treat. Presented in it's proper aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with a MPEG-4 AVC encode it simply looks fantastic, the print is not perfect with some minor print damage evident but the transfer is especially stunning when compared to the unrestored clips of the film in the trailers and the On the Set of Score featurette. What we do not get here is the 92 minute uncensored, uncut version that included seven minutes of additional erotic content that we saw from Cult Epics, perhaps it was a bit too much for the refined tastes of the notorious prude BBFC, what we do get is Radley Metzger's 84 minute censored cut of the film. The only audio option, excluding the audio commentary, is an English language LPCM 2.0 track with optional English SDH subtitles. It offers little in the way of depth and dynamics but is adequate if not stellar.


The bonus content mirrors the extras from Cult Epics Blu-ray, we get The On the Set of Score (18:27) featurette, a brief and illuminating look at the making of the films and his interactions with the cast. I particularly enjoyed the Keeping Score with Lynn Lowry (19:35) interview where she reflects on the film, her experiences on-set and her relationships with her co-stars and her difficulties with co-star Claire Wilbur. The Audio commentary with director Radley Metzger and film historian Michael Bowen made for a great listen, Metzger is always a pleasure to hear as he talks about the film, actors and shooting specific sequences. Rounding out the features are trailers for Score (3:38), Camille 2000 (2:16), and The Lickerish Quartet (2:45). Not included with the screener sent to us or review but worth a mention are the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly illustrated artwork by The Red Dress and a collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Robin Bougie.



Special Features:
- High Definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD Presentation
- Brand new high definition restoration of the film – available for the first time in the UK
- Optional English SDH subtitles
- Audio commentary with director Radley Metzger and film historian Michael Bowen
- On the set of Score – a behind the scenes look at the making of Score containing rare footage of Claire Wilber, Lynn Lowry, Cal Culver, Gerald Grant and Radley Metzger (18:27)
- Keeping Score with Lynn Lowry (The Crazies, Shivers) – a brand new interview with Score’s star (19:35)
- Original trailers for Score (3:38), Camille 2000 (2:16), The Lickerish Quartet (2:45)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly illustrated artwork by The Red Dress
- Collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Robin Bougie


Verdict: If you are looking for some whimsical erotic cinema that looks great in 1080 I highly recommend Score (1972), a fantastically arousing fun film with playful execution and Metzger's artful eye for cinema. Completest might want to snag the Cult Epics edition for the seven minutes of additional erotic scenes but this Arrow Video edition with it's mirrored special features and sweet packaging is quite a prize. 3.5 Outta 5

 




Monday, February 18, 2013

Blu-ray Review: CAMILLE 2000 (1969)

CAMILLE 2000 (1969)
Blu-ray + DVD Special Edition 
Label: Arrow Video  
Duration: 131 Minutes 
Region Code: ALL
Rating: 18 Certificate
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: PCM Mono 2.0 Stereo with Optional English SDH Sutitles
Director: Radley Metzger
Cast: Daniele Gaubert, Nino Castelnuovo, Eleonora Rossi Drago 
Tagline: The "NOW" Child

Synopsis: When Marguerite, a promiscuous woman 
(Daniel Gaubert, Snow Jobwith a troubled past and a deep distrust of men meets Armand (Nino Castelnuova, Strip Nude for Your Killer), she lets her guard down and falls in love. But can they resist old habits and latent emotions in order to stay together? Find out in this visual, sensual cinematic feast of multiple sexual partners, from the director of Score and The Opening Of Misty Beethoven.


Radley Metzger in my eyes is the undisputed master of the erotic arthouse cinema, easily a director who could have effortlessly infiltrated the mainstream cinema had it been his inclination. His cinematic style, while at times experimental and arthouse, seems compatible with the late-60's and early-70's sex comedies, thrillers and romantic dramas and never more so than with his adaptation of Alexandre Dumas Fils' novel Lady of the Camellias, Camille 2000 (1969). More a sensuous melodrama than lusty erotica, at it's heart this a tale of doomed lovers set against late-60's high society and wealthy libertines with a most excellent lounge-lizard score from composer Peiro Piccioni. The film is the most stylish and visually lavish Metzger production I've seen, courtesy of Enrico Sabbatini's stylish art decoration and some sweet lensing from cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri (The Garden of Finzo Contini).



I came to know Metzger's films through the erotically charged Score (1974) and sadomasochistic luridness of The Image (1975) and I was a bit perplexed by the comparative lack of sexual voracity found here. It's likely that I'm just a pervert but this is not what I've come to expect from Metzger. Camille 2000 is much more refined, more classical romance in it's approach, though skewed by eroticism. There is sex, but it's lacking charisma and the languid pace and relative chasteness of the film left me wanting. Perhaps this is indicative of the extended cut of this film or symptomatic of Metzger's earlier films which I've not been able to explore as of yet.


Much in the way that Dario Argento is criticized for his style over substance approach to filmmaking I think the same could be applied to Camille 2000. The French femme Gaubert is simply stunning, a true classical beauty, but I found both her and co-star Castelnuovo coldly detached in their performances, there's no sense of real intimacy and the characters feel distant throughout. The film is English language dubbed so I guess that could be a symptom of the process, I'm not sure. Whatever the reason the passion of the film didn't connect with me but on a purely visual level the film is quite an attractive entry. Metzger and Sabbatini are meticulous in their set decoration, art direction and shot composition, it's captivating stuff and it looks great, but the two leads, though alluring, do not  exactly burn down the screen with passion, it's a smoldering arthouse entry but it never quite ignited the carnal passion I was hoping it would.

Blu-ray: Up front just be aware that Arrow's special edition is derived from the same HD master as Cult Epics Extended Version (2010) and features identical supplemental materials. The transfer of Camille 2000 was made using the original 35mm negative with additional scenes being sourced from a 35mm interposit print. Sound and image have been restored to remove scratches and splice marks though according to the restoration featurette no noise reduction or edge enhancement was applied to the film in order to maintain it's film-like qualities, as such there is a good amount of grain in the image as well as white specks. Noise reduction has been applied to the audio which was sourced from a 35mm optical print to remove hiss, crackle and pops.

The film is presented in it's original scope aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen with an MPEG-4 AVC encode and the 1080p transfer benefits from improved clarity and more vibrant colors over my Cult Epic DVD, the black levels are quite good and there's a nice layer of film grain present, great stuff. The lone audio option is an English LPCM 2.0.  mono audio track, with optional English SDH subtitles which my Cult Epics DVD had none.  The Blu-ray's lossless mono audio while lacking much dynamic range does get a boost in depth and clarity  it's track is free of snap, crackle and pop leaving the dialogue clear and consistent, Piero Piccioni's 60's psychedelic-lounge score sounds truly fantastic, too.

Mirroring Cult Epics array of extras om the Extended Version (2010) we get a wonderful selection of special features beginning with an audio commentary from Metzger and film historian Michael Bowen. It's a pleasant listen with loads of production notes and anecdotal bits as the director discusses his place in cinema, working abroad and the critical reception of his films. On the Set of Camille 2000 (30:36) is comprised of film clips and hand-held behind-the-scenes footage, it's an informative watch as Metzger's narration supplies a steady stream of trivia, and includes footage from the film's wrap-party plus a few shots of a scene between Marguerite and Armand's father on a beach, the weather not cooperating that day the scene was scrapped. I love these kind of intimate and voyeuristic featurettes, very cool. Restoration of Camille 2000 (6:24) is a before and after restoration demo of the film, it speaks for itself and to the integrity of the restoration. Sylviane's Bare Striptease Scene (2:48) features a completely off-the-wall striptease cut from the film and shot hand-held, odd and awesome. Finishing off the disc are a subdued alternate take of the 'Cube Love Scene' and widescreen trailers for Metzger's Score, The Lickerish Quartet and Camille 2000. The screener I was sent did not include the the reversible artwork or the Collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Robin Bougie but just the same this is a great selection of supplemental materials that compliment the viewing of the film, good stuff all around and the ephemeral packaging extras put this right above the Cult Epics Blu-ray as the edition of choice, remember it's region-FREE and playable throughout the world. . 


Before/After Restoration Demo Shot
Special Features: 
- High Definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD Presentation
- Brand new high definition restoration of the extended cut – available for the first time in the UK
- Optional English SDH subtitles
- Audio commentary with director Radley Metzger and film historian Michael Bowen
- On the set of Camille 2000 – featuring stars Daniele Gaubert, Nino Castelnuovo and Radley Metzger 
(30:36) 16:9
- Sylviana’s Bare Striptease – previously cut scene from the feature 
(2:48) 16:9 
- Cube Love Scene – A newly discovered alternate take 
(1:52) 16:9 
- Restoration Comparison
 (6:24) 16:9
- Score Trailer (3:38) 16:9

- The Lickerish Quartet (2:46) 16:9
- Camille 2000 (2:17) 16:9 
- Reversible Artwork featuring original and newly illustrated art by The Red Dress
- Collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Robin Bougie


Verdict: Watching Camille 2000 (1969) for the second time, and in 1080p, I must say I found this tragic slice of erotica a bit more satisfying the second time around a few years later. When I first took it in after recent viewings of Metzger's Score (1972) and The Image (1975) I was a bit disappointed, that pervy part of my reptilian brain yearned for more visceral, raw carnal exploitation, I felt the film's erotic elements had been overtaken by some spectacular art design and outrageous 60's fashions and lacked the dark and satisfying erotic pleasures of Score. At that time I recommended the film with the caveat that I wouldn't pass up either The Image or Score if it came down to a choice between the trio and I maintain that opinion while giving the film a bit more love today. Either way, Arrow's Blu-ray is a must-have for Metzger completest, a sensual and erotic feast of mod 60's artiness and bare skin beauty. 3.5 Outta 5 

  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

DVD Review: BLACK SUNDAY (1960)

BLACK SUNDAY (1960) / THE MASK OF SATAN (1960) / I VAMPIRI (1956) 
3-Disc Blu-ray + DVD 

Label:
Arrow Video

Duration: 86/83 Minutes
Region: B/2

Rating: 15 Certificate 
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.66:1) 
Audio: English, Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles Director: Mario Bava
Cast: Barbara Steele, John Richardson and Andrea Checchi
Tagline: STARE INTO THESE EYES... discover deep within them the unspeakable terrifying secret of BLACK SUNDAY... it will paralyze you with fright!

When one thinks of Gothic Italian horror you would be hard-pressed to utter something more iconic than Mario Bava's first credited directorial debut, the beautifully gruesome The Mask of Satan (1960) or by it's more familiar American title Black Sunday (1960) starring the haunting beauty Barbara Steele. It's a stunning Gothic fever-dream of gorgeous black and white cinematography steeped in macabre shadow and oozing graveyard atmosphere from start to finish.

In my opinion the film contains perhaps the most creepily atmospheric opening five minutes of celluloid out there, seriously. Opening with a witch burning amidst the trees of a forest steeped in the thickest fog you will ever see, the scene is fantastic. The year is 1630 and a congregation of hooded executioners gather round the supernatural beauty of the vampire-witch Asa (Barbare Steele) and her brother Javuto (Arturo Dominici)  as they are about to be put to death for consorting with the Devil, as  an "S" shaped brand is seared into Asa's flesh she lays a wonderfully venomous curse upon the descendants of her accuser, a heavy iron mask with sharp spikes along the inside is brutally hammered into her face, the blood flows heavily from it's eyelets. Afterward her body is interred beneath the ground in a crypt while Javuto's is buried in a cemetery reserved for murderers.

Some two centuries later, Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and his young medical assistant Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson) are traveling through the countryside en route to a conference when their carriage breaks down, stranding them for a bit while their coachmen makes repairs. The two enter a nearby crypt believing it abandoned and discover Asa's tomb when a bat attacks Krujavjan, during the attack the doc accidentally destroys the crucifix holding vigil over Asa's crypt and a glass panel on her tomb is broken, revealing her masked face. Investigating further the doctor removes the iron mask staked to her face revealing a partially preserved, though eyeless face, a drop of blood from his hand falls upon her visage and thus the spirit of Asa is again unleashed upon the world. 

Leaving the crypt the two men happen upon a young woman named Katia walking her canine, she bares an uncanny resemblance to witch-vampire Asa, both women are portrayed by the stunning Barbara Steele in a wonderful dual role. After a brief introduction Katia reveals to the travelers that she lives in a nearby castle with her father, Prince Vajda (Garrani), and brother Constantine (Enrico Oliveiri), which we discover are descendants of the accuser. With the carriage repaired the two men inform Katia of their plans to stay at a nearby inn for the night before continuing their journey and make their leave, the younger Gorobec is instantly infatuated with Katia, you can see it pains him to leave.

That night Asa summons Javuto from his grave, we get a truly fantastic unearthing scene not unlike a Romero zombie rising from grave, it just oozes creepiness. Asa commands him to take the life of Prince Vajda, entering the castle he is thwarted when Vadja produces a crucifix, surviving the attack the aging Vajda is paralyzed with fear and Katia sends for Dr. Kruvajan, both he and the enamored Gorobec return to her aid setting on motion a series of macabre and gruesome events, even for the uninitiated I would find it hard to believe this half century old British shocker would not hold it's sway over younger audiences.


Truly a film that has everything lovers of Gothic tinged horror could ever want; atmospheric settings, creepy castles, cobwebbed tombs, secret passageways, haunted forests, eye trauma, exploding crypts, perverse sexuality, sadism, witch burnings, taut suspense and fantastic visual effects from Mario Bava himself, it's just a fantastic watch. It's great to have both the Black Sunday and The Mask of Satan versions represented here, the latter containing about three minutes of film cut from the US version, considered to squeamish or blasphemous for American audiences at the time, should you choose to take in the API version you also have the option of listening to the Les Baxter re-score in addition to the re-dubbed dialogue, it's a very cool edition. 

DVD: For the purpose of this review we were sent the Region 2 DVD version, not the Region 'B' locked Blu-ray edition, regardless, the features and supplements are identical minus the 1080p upgrade and lossless audio, so let's dig into Arrow Video's jam-packed edition.


Arrow Video's DVD image looks fantastic, the anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) presentation is a slight improvement over the The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1 (Anchor Bay, 2007) edition in my collection. The macabre and spooky set pieces look great with rich shadow detail and it's a bit sharper and the black levels are a bit deeper, too. 


There are three audio options for fans to choose from . The original English export version The Mask of Satan gets the original European English track plus an Italian language track with new English subtitles translation. The API Black Sunday version features the English re-dub and the Les Baxter's more dramatic (some might say generic) re-scoring presented here for the first time ever on home video, both versions of the film have new and improved English subtitles and the audio sounds quite nice, there's not a lot of bombast on the track but the dialogue is clean and the effects and score are given their due. 

First up we have an Introduction to the film by author and critic Alan Jones (2:45) who gives a fond introduction succinctly summarizing the film, paying respect the the Italian King of Horror, Bava's early career. There's also some discussion of the controversy surrounding the film and the film's star Barbara Steele's career in horror. Jones is a bit dry but he does pack in quite a few nuggets in just under three minute. 


The Audio Commentary with Bava biographer and expert Tim Lucas first appeared on the Image Entertainment edition and again on Anchor Bay's Bava collection appears here, too. It's a fantastic commentary if even at times it feels like Lucas is reading straight from his, as of then unfinished, book Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. It's fortified with  pretty much anything you could ever want to know about the film, including production notes and comparison's between The Mask of Satan and Black Sunday, for fans it's a must listen experience. 


Interview with star and horror icon Barbara Steele (8:29) was recorded in 1995 and the unearthly beauty still had her mystique about her even at that late date, quite a gorgeous woman. During the interview the star herself speculates why exactly it was that Mario Bava chose her for the film, also commenting on the duality of her role and the extreme atmospheric nature of the film versus the the sad state of horror in the mid-90's. 


Deleted Scene from the Italian version with notes by Tim Lucas (3:23) features the much sought-after "roll 15b" dialogue scene from the film with text from Tim Lucas's Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark putting the scene into context. It's a dry bit of dialogue honestly, but it's here for the completists.


My favorite feature is the inclusion of  Italy’s first sound horror film I Vampiri (1956) directed by Riccardo Freda and finished by cameraman Mario Bava when the director walked off set following an argument with producers, it's the film that thrust Bava into the directing chair and the rest is Italian horror history. It's a pretty great watch, an atmospheric chiller about an ageless woman living a supernaturally long life at the expense of young virgins with the help of a mad scientists, you can definitely feel Bava's presence throughout the film, visually it's quite a feast. The feature is presented in Italian with English subtitles. 


The last of the major special features is a nearly hour long Mario Bava Trailer Reel (51:46) featuring trailers for The Mask of Satan (1960), Hercules in the Haunted World (1961), Erik the Conqueror 1961), The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963),  Black Sabbath (1963), The Whip and the Body (1963), Blood and Black Lace (1964), The Road to Fort Alamo (1964), Planet of the Vampires (1965), Knives of the Avengers (1966), Kill, Baby... Kill! (1966), Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966), Danger Diabolik (1968), Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970), Five Dolls for an August Moon, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack (1970), Carnage (1971), Baron Blood (1972), Four Times That Night (1972), Lisa and the Devil (1974), Rabid Dogs (1974) and Shock (1977). Watching I was reminded of not just how many great films Bava directed but just how many Bava films I have still to take in, that's a rather exciting prospect. Rounding out the supplemental materials are the International Trailer (3:26)US Trailer (2:06)Italian Trailer (3:18) and a very short TV Spot (0:21). 


Special Features:
- Limited Edition Slipbox Edition with 4 panels of reversible sleeve featuring 4 artworks including 3 original posters and a newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of two versions of the film; ‘The Mask of Satan’ – the European version with score by Roberto Nicolosi and ‘Black Sunday’ – the re-edited and re-dubbed AIP version with Les Baxter score, on home video for the first time
- Three audio versions: Optional Italian, European English and AIP English re-dub and re-score
- English SDH subtitles for both English versions and a new English subtitle translation of the Italian audio
- Audio Commentary with Bava biographer and expert Tim Lucas
- Introduction to the film by author and critic Alan Jones (2:45)
- Interview with star and horror icon Barbara Steele (8:29)
- Deleted Scene from the Italian version with notes by Tim Lucas (3:23)
- International Trailer (3:26) 16:9
- US Trailer (2:06) 16:9
- Italian Trailer (3:18) 16:9
- TV Spot (0:21) 4:3
- I Vampiri (1956) – Italy’s first sound horror film directed by Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava (78 mins)
- US I Vampiri Trailer ‘The Devil’s Commandment’ (1:36)
- Mario Bava Trailer Reel (51:46)
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Matt Bailey and Alan Jones, illustrated with original archive stills and posters


Verdict: A fantastic Italian chiller from start to finish, a classic of not just Italian horror but in the annals of all horror cinema, so do yourself a favor and dust off this classic Gothic masterpiece, a film that left an indelible mark on horror for years to come, everything from The City of the Dead (1969) to Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999) owe this macabre masterpiece a debt of gratitude, also check out Jon Knautz's The Shrine (2010) as a recent example of a film that takes strong inspiration from it, great stuff. It's quite satisfying to see another Mario Bava film in Arrow Video's hands following their stellar A Bay of Blood (1971) Blu-ray, Arrow's 3-disc edition would seem to be the definitive and final word on the film, 'nuff said. 4.5 Outta 5 


Saturday, February 9, 2013

DVD Review: MIMESIS: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (2010)

MIMESIS - NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (2010) 

Label: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Region Code: 1 NTSC
Rating: R
Duration: 95 Minutes
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 
Director: Douglas Schulze
Cast: Allen Maldonado, Lauren Mae Shafer, Taylor John Piedmonte, David G.B. Brown, Courtney Gains
Tagline: Why watch a horror movie when you can live one? 


Synopsis: What begins as a horror convention after-party for a group of fans will quickly become a genuine flesh-and-blood nightmare: Trapped inside an isolated farmhouse, they must now survive attacks by hordes of hungry zombies while desperately attempting to escape. But is this gore-soaked siege a twisted prank, an elaborate trap, or has Night of the Living Dead actually come to undead life? Sid Haig (The Devil's rejects) and Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn) star in this award-winning indie shocker from co-writer/director Douglas Schulze that walks the razor-sharp line between edgy homage and depraved reality...then proceeds to rip its guts out. 

When George A. Romero's seminal chiller Night of the Living Dead (1968) fell into the public domain following it's initial release due to an unfortunate copyright snafu little did anyone realize just what a classic had been unleashed upon the world, it changed the face of modern horror.  Pretty sure at that time no one realized either just how often it would be re-used and re-purposed by aspiring filmmakers in the decades to follow. How many times have you watched a film and the characters are either at the theater or at home watching TV and the film on the screen is NOTLD? Hundreds of times,  - it's rampant. Why? It's pretty simple, they don't have to pay Romero and any royalties, it's in the public domain. It's this status as a horror freebie that has allowed film distributors to proliferate the market with unapproved versions of the film on DVD and for aspiring filmmakers to remake, re-use and re-purpose the film for better or worse.


Some of the not-so-great in my estimation were  NOTLD: Re-Animation (2012), Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006) and NOTLD co-writer John A. Russo's NOTLD: 30th Anniversary Edition featuring newly filmed scenes and a new score - what a pile of shit, too

Versions of the film that were quite a bit more successful were 80's effects master turned director Tom Savini's NOTD (1990), a remake of the film penned by George A. Romero himself, it's a grim film with some nice touches, a few key pieces are askew but the film is fantastic. Another nice entry is the  neat animated feature NOTD: Reanimated (2010) featuring a wild array of different animation styles laid over the film's original score/dialogue - it's an uneven affair but it's arguably doing something different the film other than cashing i on it's cult classic status. 

This brings us to Douglas Schulze's Mimesis: Night of the Living Dead (2010) a film that definitely falls into the latter category of something unique and potentially quite wonderful. Two young men attend a horror convention where they watch a q+a with horror icon Alphonze Betz played by veteran horror actor Sid Haig who makes at least his second appearance in a NOTLD remake/re-purpose following the aforementioned and dreadful NOTLD 3D. The two men in the audience are horror nerd Russell (Taylor Piedmonte) and his best friend Duane (Allen Maldonado) who is more there to hit on sexy goth girls than anything else, not really a horror fan at all. If it's sexy Goth girls Duane craves he's it pay-dirt when super-cute Goth vixen Judith (Lauren Mae Shafer) invites them to a party out in the middle of nowhere. Arriving at the farmhouse the two enjoy a night of horror-themed debauchery, it's a great night for the guys - until they black out and awaken the next day dressed in different clothes and trapped in a weird re-creation of George A. Romero's cult classic film where the kills are only too real for those who's strings are being manipulated by forces not yet understood.

It's a pretty sweet premise for a film and there's a lot of promise to the story, too. I love how the characters are cast as certain characters from NOTLD but are just slightly askew, it's a clever homage to be certain  The acting is quite good, not excellent but I bought into the film, so no complaints there. The script is quite self-aware, this is a film made by horror fans for horror fans and it's fun stuff. The gore-hounds will be pleased, too - there's plenty of blood n' guts on display and there's a nice smattering of comedy peppered throughout. 

It's shot on the cheap but the cinematography is excellent and the shoe-string budget doesn't show much visually. The hiccups along the way for me were some annoying editing in the way of artificial ramping up and slowing down of the film, it's way overused and only drew attention to itself. Another debit on the film is that the twist is broadcast early on but it doesn't detract from what a neat concept we have on our hands here. It's not perfect but aside from a few minor quibbles this was a fun watch with some fun appearances by Sig Haig and Courtney Gains of Children of the Corn. While it's not even close to attaining the gory glory of the '90 remake it's thankfully not plumbing the depths of NOTLD 3D either. 3 Outta 5

Sunday, February 3, 2013

DVD Review: FROM BEYOND (1986)

FROM BEYOND (1986) 

Label: Second Sight Films 
Release Date: February 25th 2013
Rating: Cert: 18
Duration: 82 Minutes
Region Code: 2 PAL 

Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1) 1080p
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, 4.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Ted Sorel, Kenneth Foree, Barbara Crampton




Synopsis: An obsessive scientist Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel) and his assistant (Jeffrey Combs) have invented ‘The Resonator’, a device designed to stimulate the brain’s pineal gland and expand the powers of the mind. The machine gives them more than they bargained for however when a parallel universe inhabited by slimy creatures ready to prey on humans reveals itself. Pretorious meets a sticky end, returns as a grotesque, deformed being and all manner of depravity ensues.

This is a title I saw at the local VHS rental shop as a kid of about 14 and I just couldn't watch it fast enough, it lured me in with pretty much everything a horny gore-hound could want -  gore, boobs and slime a plenty. Pretty sure this is the flick that introduced me tothe films of Stuart Gordon and actor Jeffrey Combs, plus the teen masturbation fantasy that was Barbara Crampton. The only familiar face was Ken Foree from George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) which was a favorite rental of mine,  at the time watching it at least on a monthly basis.

Renowned physicist Dr. Pretorious (Ted Sorel) and his assistant Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) are hard at work on an invention called The Resonator, a machine that stimulates the pineal gland located in the human brain through resonant vibrations. A unforeseen side of effect of this pineal stimulation is that those affected are able to perceive another dimension separate from our own reality. It's Tillinghast who first makes this discovery while making adjustments to the Resonator, turning it on he sees creatures resembling moray eels floating in the air, after being bitten by one them he turns it off, panicked he notifies Pretorious who turns on the machine and is overwhelmed with a powerful sensation and the need to see beyond normal human perception, it's almost orgasmic the way he delights in it. Tillinghast implores the scientist to turn off the machine but he refuses, the scene ends with the assistant feeling the house as Pretoprious's corpse lies on the ground next to the resonator, his now missing head having been twisted-off in a grotesque fashion. Arrested for murder the seemingly mad Tillinghast ends up in the loony bin under the care of a Nurse Ratched type character named Dr. Bloch (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Dolls).

Arriving at the psychiatric hospital to study the case is Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton, Re-Animator), after some tests reveal that Tillinghast's pineal gland is larger than normal she becomes convinced that Pretorious's experiments were successful and that his discovery could benefit the science of schizophrenia, and isn't that where the trouble always begins - the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and this road is slimy, too. 

McMichaels checks Tillinghast out from the psychiatric ward under her care against Bloch's wishes and is accompanied back to the scene of the experiments under the watchful eye of Detective Bubba Brownie (Ken Foree, Dawn of the Dead) with the intention of rebuilding and re-creating Pretorous's resonator experiments. That's pretty much it in a nutshell, the story is pretty simplistic but with a great cast and some inventive special effects director Stuart Gordon created of my favorite mid-80's science fiction horrors.

Soon enough, against, the better judgement of Tillinghast, the Resonator is turned-on yet again and it's not long before all three not only bare witness to the strange other dimensional creature from beyond, but also to the transformed Pretorious, now a grotesque, slime covered version of his former self, the lustful doc attacks McMichaels and she only just barely escapes with her brain intact when Tillinghast and Bubba manage to get past a toothy sandworm-esque creature in the basement to uncouple the power from the machine. The encounter leaves Tillinghast completely bald, the continued exposure to the Resonator prompts his pineal gland to emerge from his skull as a fleshy stalk and he's cursed with a new-found hunger for human brain-matter.

There's some great atmosphere in the film, the fantastic otherworldly score combined with the neon pink and blue hues combine to great effect onscreen. Crampton's character as the Dr. driven by ambition and overcome by lustful desires thrilled me as a teen and still does today. The role is a sweet reversal of what we saw in Re-Animator where she played victim to Comb's maniacal Herbert West, it's a delicious twist. The entire film is wonderfully twisted, perversely sexual and grotesquely slimy, there's a lot to love. The effects team does great work here, not all of it holds-up equally but overall the film was ahead of it's time, ambitious stuff. It's not on the level of John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) but the two are kindred in spirit in ooze and creativity. The Pretorious transformations are particularly fantastic, unsettling stuff which gave me night-sweats as a kid and still manages to sends shivers down my spine today. 

DVD: Second Sight's DVD presents the film in it's original widescreen (1.85:1) aspect ratio. I gather it's sourced  from the same master as the MGM's 2007 Unrated Director's Cut and it looks fantastic. There's some nice film grain left intact and there's precious few instances of dirt or grime, it's been treated right. The film's neon pink and blue hues really pop, it still packs a visual wallop recalling the use of color in films from Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava in the 70's and 80's. The print has been restored, painstakingly so, there's a great featurette on the disc explaining the difficulties incorporating previously cut scenes back into the film, the restoration demo is a revelation.

The audio options include English language Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and 4.0 and it's quite good if not exactly fantastic, there's just not a lot of channel separation or use of he surrounds. While I am not one to demand newly created 5.1 Surround mixes for older films I think this sci-fi horror could have benefited from a sonic upgrade, during The Resonator scenes I could almost hear what could have been. That said, the dialogue, effects and great Richard Band score are presented clear, crisp and  well-balanced. Optional English subtitles are included, too. 


The supplemental material is flourishing on this release beginning with over a minute of restored footage that was excised due to an MPAA "castration". The restoration is fantastic and documented in the previously mentioned The Editing Room – Lost and Found (4:55) containing interviews with the restoration team and Stuart Gordon, the restoration demo is probably my favorite feature, tales of cut films restored to their original, and in this case, gorier glory have always brought a smile to my face. 

The Audio Commentary with Stuart Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna and cast members Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs is quite entertaining. The foursome have blast reflecting on the film and their time in Italy, lots of fun anecdotes and behind-the-scenes stuff, a  lot of this you will hear repeated to some degree during the other special features but it's a commentary definitely worth a listen. 

Now onto four supplements not found on the previous MGM DVD, we get over an hour of featurettes produced by Severin films beginning with Stuart Gordon on From Beyond (19:44) features the director talking about how this is the movie where he started murdering his wife, so to speak. He also discusses how the stunning pink hue of the film is based on Lovecraft writings and how cinematographer Mac Ahlberg brought that vision to life. Gordon also discusses discovering the writings of H.P. Lovecraft  originally wanting to make Dagon his second feature but when Charles Band shot the idea down decided to go with From Beyond, even borrowing some of the Pretorious creature elements from Lovecraft's The Mouths of Madness. Topics discussed are the principle cast, shooting in Rome, the influence of John Carpenter's The Thing, a scene he cut himself (which is lost and not included here) and being scolded by the MPAA for the film's grotesque imagery and subject matter.

Gothic Adaptation (15:22) which is not included on the MGM edition features screenwriter Dennis Paoli discussing finding Lovecraft powerfully weird prose through science fiction rather than horror, his meeting and longtime collaboration with Gordon, the Organic Theater Company, the challenges of adapting Lovecraft's Re-Animator, what he considers collaboration versus adaptation, unshot scenes and theories about the pineal gland.

Monsters and Slime – The FX of From Beyond (19:53) for fans of effects and gore is a true delight containing interviews effects creators John Naulin, Anthony Dublin and Greg Bartalos. This was an effects heavy extravaganza and Greg Bartalos (Frankenhooker) whom all talk about what they brought to the film, Naulin has a pretty fantastic story about losing two of his fingers on-set during a freak accident, fun stuff. 

The Doctor Is In – An interview with Barbara Crampton (13:53) is a 2007 interview with star Crampton, who might I just say is still quite a gorgeous woman. She speaks a bit about being the daughter of a carnie barker, getting the part in Gordon's Re-Animator (1985) and then From Beyond (1986) and her experiences working with Combs and Gordon.

Director’s Perspective (8:53) features director Gordon talking about his three picture deal with Empire and thinking Dagon would be his next feature until Charles Band balked at the idea, which is how he ended up coming to From Beyond. He also speaks to the role reversal of the Combs/Crampton characters whom appeared in Re-Animator, the connection between horror and sex in cinema and a fun story about battling the MPAA for an R rating, including a stiff scolding by a librarian in regard to the infamous eye-sucking scene, going on to discuss the origin and assembling of this director's cut of the film.


The last of the major supplementals is Interview with the Composer (4:33) featuring composer (and brother of Charles) Richard Band whom speaks to exploring the film's inherent horror and sexuality through the score, composed by a 40 piece string orchestra with some assistance from synthesizer. The DVD is rounded out by a cool Photo Montage (4:45) set to Richard Band's score, a the Storyboard to Film comparison (1:23). The only thing missing would be some trailers, but what we get is a goldmine of awesomeness. 


Cool Main Menu, love the artwork. 
Special Features:
• Stuart Gordon on From Beyond (19:44)*
• Gothic Adaptation – An interview with writer Dennis Paoli (15:22)*
• The Doctor Is In – An interview with Barbara Crampton (13:53)*
• Monsters and Slime – The FX of From Beyond (19:53)*
• Director’s Perspective (8:53)
• The Editing Room – Lost and Found (4:55)
• Interview with the Composer (4:33)
• Commentary with Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna and Jeffrey Combs
• Photo Montage (4:45)
• Storyboard to film comparison (1:23)
• Includes English subtitles for hard of hearing

* - Not on the R1 MGM Unrated Director's Cut 

Verdict: A fantastic mid-80's sci-fi horror classic dripping with grotesque creatures and slime from director Stuart Gordon's classic period, fantastic stuff. Gordon doesn't get enough praise in my opinion and if you haven't check out his 80's and early 90's oeuvre you are missing out on some true cult-classics. Sure, every one's seen Re-Animator (1985) but definitely check out Dolls (1987), The Pit and the Pendulum (1991) and Castle Freak (1995). Much the same way Roger Corman had his classic Edgar Allen Poe cycle of films Stuart Gordon executed a fantastic series of H.P. Lovecraft adaptations including Dagon (2001), the aforementioned trio of films, plus  two episode's of the Masters of Horror TV series Dreams in the Witch-House (2005) and The Black Cat (2007). I recommend them all enthusiastically. Second Sight's  DVD edition matches the R1 2007 MGM Unrated Director's Cut edition of the film, includes all of the MGM produced extras and throws in sixty-nine minutes of additional Severin produced featurettes. This is a top notch release, a fantastic edition of a frightfully fun film that's also available on a region B locked Blu-ray. 4 Outta 5  

http://www.secondsightfilms.co.uk/