Monday, September 30, 2013



Label: Shameless Screen Entertainment

Region Code: 0 PAL 
Rating: Certificate:18
Duration:106 min
Audio: Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Pupi Avati
Cast: Lino Capolicchio, Francesca Marciano, Gianni Cavin

Pup Avati's Euro-shocker The House with the Laughing Windows (1976) begins with a young art restoration expert named Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) arriving in a sleepy Italian village, having been tasked to restore a bizarre fresco painting at the local church, it depicts the bloody death of martyr St. Sebastian who was painfully slashed to death by arrows. The gory fresco is said to have been painted years earlier by a deranged local artist named Legnani, whom the villagers say was demented and created his painted agonies by torturing his subjects, that's right, he would paint his subjects in the agonizing throes of death to capture the essence of their suffering on his canvas, and some of the works featured in the film are pretty strange indeed. It is also implied that Legnani's two insane sisters assisted him and may have engaged in the most taboo of unnatural acts, incest. 

Stefano, being an artists, has an eye for detail and peculiarity, and this village is just lousy with peculiarity! Starting with the midget Solimi who hired him to restore the fresco, he's one of the first characters we meet as Stefano arrives in the village via boat, they're driven into town by Solimi's chauffeur named Coppola who ends up figuring prominently into the story. Everyone in the village is suspect, they're just a little bit weird, there's an overwhelming sense of unease throughout the film, the atmosphere is rich with an ambiguous dread that creeps up creates a surreal sense of paranoia. Perhaps the nuttiest of the bunch is Stefano's bug-nuts insane assistant at the church who spouts nonsense, a real weirdo who immediately drew my suspicion. 

Some local oddness aside Stefano has very little trouble with the ladies of the village, easily bedding not one, but two, sexy young school teachers in no time at all. First up is his slightly-slutty neighbor, a ginger-locked cutey, and when she leaves town he lands the more slightly more chaste (sort of) Francesco (Francesca Marciano), with whom he develops a relationship which lasts for most of the film, wink wink. 

The villagers, shopkeepers and restaurateurs seem like they're hiding something and at the same time you get the feeling they are quite aware of pretty much every move that Stefano makes, it's an odd feeling. Stefano encounters an old friend Antonio (Glulio Pizzirani) in town who as it turns out was the one whom recommended him for the job, as they catch up it is revealed that he too has heard about the enigmatic painter and later phones Stefano urging him to come to his apartment for he has uncovered some disturbing information about the fresco. Stefano rushes over just in time to witness Antonio plummet to his death from his upper-tier apartment window, a shadowy figure is glimpsed in the window above.

The police arrive but of course are not convinced there has been any foul-play in Antonio's death despite Stefano's concerns, unable to leave the mystery alone he sets out to uncover more of the Legnani story, eventually discovering that his body was never actually recovered and the whereabouts of his sisters are unknown, as the web of mystery slowly unravels the body count rises and we earn ourselves a true shocker of an ending!

The tense atmosphere and feelings of mistrust that director Pupi Avati generates is palpable, you can almost taste it, very few films cam muster up the paranoia and dread that this shocker oozes practically from the first scene, it brought to mind the earlier films of Roman Polanski (Repulsion, The Tenant) and Lucio Fulci's superb Don't Torture a Duckling (1972), the cinematographer capturing the gorgeous northern Italian scenery, aging architecture and water canals, it's quite a beautiful film.

 The House with the Laughing Windows (1976) first came to my attention via Euro-cult circles on the web and was often cited as a first-rate Giallo, which I think is a bit off the mark. It's more along the lines of the aforementioned Don't Torture a Duckling (1972), the folk-horror classic The Wicker Man (1973) minus the gore or Mario Bava's Gothic creeper Kill Baby, Kill (1966), and lacks many of the characteristics of what I would call a Giallo, such as a black-gloved killer, elaborately gory deaths, erotic sex, and Argento-esque camera work, all these qualities are notably absent or in short supply. Actually, the sex is pretty chase (no nudity) and the deaths are far and few between and many happen off screen. Not to say it's bloodless, it's  book-ended by a bloody sepia-tone title sequence (which brought to mind Fulci's The Beyond) and that previously mentioned shocker-ending which pays of the viewers patience ten-fold, so it's not completely absent, it's just not in copious amounts. 

DVD: The House with the Laughing Windows (1976) is presented on region-FREE PAL formatted DVD from Shameless Screen Entertainment with a new transfer restored from the original negative under the  supervision of director Pupi Avati and it's quite nice. The image is anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with a layer of film grain that is a bit more present during some of the darker scenes than you might like, but it's not too distracting. Colors are strong, the image is fairly sharp, and the disc sports some decent black levels though there is some crush and murkiness. I think it's unfortunate that we don't get to see this on hi-def Blu-ray, the cinematography is gorgeous and would look spectacular in 1080p with more depth and clarity. 

The disc comes with two audio options, Italian Dolby Digital Mono and 5.1 Surround with optional English subtitles. The original mono comes through clean and well-balanced while the 5.1 opens up things a bit with the minimalist but effectively creepy score bleeding into the surrounds, it's not an overly dynamic surround track but it's effective. 

Extras include a pretty great interview with the director of the film Pupi Avati conducted in Italian with English subtitles, it is both fascinating and articulate, turned me into an instant fan. It's a shame Avati didn't make more horror films, I will definitely be seeking out his other films right away, I am quite impressed with my introduction to his work. There's also a theatrical trailer and a trailer gallery with nine trailers from the Shameless catalog, some fun stuff. 

Special Features: 
- Brand New Transfer Restored Under the Supervision of Director Pupi Avati 
- New Improved English Subtitles 
- New Exclusive Interview with Director Pupi (20:25)
- Theatrical Trailer (3:27) 
- Shameless Trailer Park: The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, Almost Human, The New York Ripper, Don't Torture a Duckling, Cannibal Holocaust, The House on the Edge of the Park, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Dellamorte Dellamore, Amsterdamned (10:27) 

Verdict: The House with the Laughing Windows (1976) gets a very nice standard-def DVD presentation from Shameless Screen Entertainment, as for the film, it's a tense, paranoid slow-burn slice of Euro-cult cinema and maybe the deliberate pace and absence of viscera might turn off a few watchers but it's layered with atmosphere and dread and I think it's a superb watch, highly recommended. 

4 Outta 5 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Blu-ray Review: PSYCHO III (1986) Collector's Edition

Collector's Edition Blu-ray 

Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 93 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, John Fahey
Director: Anthony Hopkins
Tagline: Norman Bates is back to normal. But Mother's off her rocker again. 

Psycho III begins with a nun (Diana Scarwid) screaming "There is no God!" and one might assume this is a commentary on yet another sequel to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) but you would be mistaken. In fact the first sequel to the iconic film is actually a pretty fantastic watch despite the odds and Universal soon began filming a second sequel with Anthony Perkins in the directing chair and a script by Charles Edward Pogue (Cronenberg's The Fly) based on characters created by Robert Bloch, but not on Bloch's own sequel novelization.

Anyway, back to the film we have the Nun (Diana Scarwid, Rumble Fish) suffering through a spiritual crisis attempting suicide at the top of a bell tower, this whole scenario smacked of the finale to Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958), and while she is unsuccessful in her bid for death she does accidentally send the Mother Superior plummeting to her own demise... oops. Packing her suitcase she leaves the Nunnery and wanders the desert until she is picked-up by wandering musician Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey, Planet Terror) who attempts to have his way with the pretty lady but when she puts up s fuss, pissed off he kicks her to the curb during a torrential down pour in the middle of the desert.

As fate would have it the two both end up at Bates Motel where Duane is offered an assistant manager position by Norman which we viewers know was left vacant in pt.2, Dennis Franz's character taking a knife across the face. It's a nice touch when Duane tells Norman he doesn't plan to stay in the position long to which Bates replies "No one ever does". The Nun, whose name is Maureen, catches the attention of Norman back at the greasy spoon diner from the previous film, she bares a striking resemblance to Norman's most famous victim, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and even shares the same initials "M.C." which Norman spots on her luggage, disturbed by the strange encounter Norman flees the diner only to find that Maureen has taken a room at the Motel, in the very same room as Marion Crane.

From here the film draws several parallels to the first film as Norman expectantly begins to lose his mind and does Mother's bidding, in fact when he peeps Maureen in the shower through his favorite spy-hole Mother attempts to repeat certain events we are well familiar with but when the shower curtain is pulled back to deliver the fatal blow the young woman has already slit her own wrists, in her odd state of mind Maureen envisions the Virgin Mary holding a cross instead of Norman in drag with a butcher's knife. At this point Norman snaps back to reality and saves Maureen's life, afterward a relationship ensues but Mother's none too pleased with this turn of events, stirring things up even more is tabloid reporter Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell, The Changeling) who arrives to investigate the disappearance of an elderly waitress from the diner, those who saw the first sequel know quite well what happened to her, and so too does Tracy. 

This is a pretty sleazy entry, it's a bit darker tonally, it's more sexually exploitative and the kills are a bit more gruesome, I really enjoyed all these elements. Not sure what I was expecting from Perkins turns as director (his first of just two) but it feels assured. Much as with the previous sequel the deaths here are very slasher-esque, one woman seated on a toilet unexpectedly has her throat slashed, it's great stuff with lots of blood, as is a payphone booth kill of a young slut played by Juliette Cummings of Slumber Party Massacre, neat. Another murder features someone getting their head smashed in with a guitar, a nightmarish follow-up sequence ensues as Norman attempts to dispose of the body but instead ends up in the swamp himself, I really do love the amped-up slasher tendencies that the sequels bring to the franchise. 

Perkins is fantastic as Bates, Fahey in an interview on the disc talks about how uncanny it was to work with Perkins who would snap into character in a split second, it's quite obvious the character was near and dear to the actor and it shows in his nuanced performances as both the troubled son and vengeful mother, one fantastic touch is during a particularly brutal scene Mother takes a second to straighten a crooked picture on the staircase, it's a small moment but I loved it. Fahey is fantastic as the sleazy musician Duane, he exudes a dangerous and sexy charm, and is the perfect replacement for Toomey (Franz) from the first sequel, plus Scarwid is admirable as the spiritually troubled nun as is Maxwell as the nosy reporter, another fun sequel that rises to the challenge with a great cast who bring their a-game. 

Of course, there are the prerequisite nods to the first film including bringing out the iconic black and white shower scene yet again, a skewed re-creation of that very same scene and a tragic version of the staircase death. There's also an underlying sense of dark comedy at play, check out the ice machine scene, it's a very sly film and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As a slasher fan there's just not much I didn't like about the film, this is fun stuff, sure it's a bit cheap when compared to Hitchcock's original but when taken on it's own merits in context of the period I thinks it's pretty great, it's not a classic horror thriller, but it's a fun sleazy slasher. 

Blu-ray: Scream Factory bring Psycho III (1983) to Blu-ray with an MPEG4-AVC encode and it looks quite nice on par with what we saw with Psycho II with a nice layer of fine film grain and strong colors, the blacks look just great which is good for us, this is a very dark film. sourced from a great looking print I am quite happy with what we get in the video department, a very pleasing 1080p hi-def image with good contrast. 

The DTS-HD Master Audio options include both the original stereo mix and a newly minted 5.1 and it's a very nice surround audio presentation with some nice use of the surrounds. Dialogue, Carter Burwell's score plus sound effects are clean and well-balanced, it's a very nice audio presentation that offers both the original stereo and a 5.1 mix that makes nice use of the surround system. 

This set features a few more extras than what we found on the Psycho II disc beginning with a commentary with Screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue moderated by Michael Felscher of Red Shirt Pictures and it's a great anecdotal commentary, even speaking poorly of Holland's script for Psycho 2, his reasoning doesn't quite wash as his own script strays from the original quite a bit. There about 42 minutes worth of interviews with actors Jeff Fahey and Katt Shea and Special Make-Up Effects Creator Michael who fondly recalls his time at Universal and returning to work on this sequel, also interview is 80's scream queen Brinke Stevens who was a body double for Diana Scarwid on this film. The Jeff Fahey interview is great, this was an early and important role for the up and coming star, he has many great memories of the cast and his time on-set. 

Scream Factory doesn't offer reversible artwork this time around but we do get a slipcover featuring the theatrical artwork of Norman offering a room key shaped like a dagger. 

Special Features:
- New Audio Commentary with Screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue
- Watch The Guitar – New interview with Actor Jeff Fahey (16:49)
- Patsy’s Last Night – New interview with Actress Katt Shea (8:40)
- Mother’s Maker – interview with Special Make-Up Effects Creator Michael Westmore (11:12)
- Body Double – interview with Brinke Stevens (5:14)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (1:54) 

- Still gallery (8:17) 

Verdict: Psycho III (1986) is a fun character study of Norman Bates with some effectively grisly 80's slasher style tendencies, it has a dark vein of humor that I appreciated and some inspired nods to the original film, plus some entertaining exploitative elements, which might turn off some but I loved it. I give this a high recommend to 80's slasher fans, if you haven't watched either of the sequels I would dare say they're required viewing, if not you're missing out. Scream Factory offer up the film with a great hi-def presentation and some value-added extras, what's not to like?  3.5 Outta 5 

Blu-ray Review: DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) Collector's Edition


Collector's Edition Blu-ray 

Label: Shout! Factory / Scream Factory

Region Code: A
Duration:101 Minutes 
Rating: Unrated
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander Joe Pilato, Richard Liberty

Aah, Day of the Dead (1985), George A. Romero's third and final entry in the original Dead Trilogy if you don't count Land (2005), Diary (2007)and Island (2009)... and I know you don't, you better not! Day opens up sometime after the events of Dawn and it seems that humanity has all but lost the persevere the undead hordes and survivors are few and far between, the powers is out and radio communication with other survivors and government agencies have ceased. 

As Day opens a helicopter sortie flies up and down the coast of Florida looking for survivors and supplies, landing in Fort Myers and finding not a living soul but plenty of the undead they return to an underground Army base located in the Everglades. The sight of the helicopter brought me right back to Dawn of the Dead (1978) but there's no connective tissue to it's predecessor, perhaps just a poignant visual reminder to the previous entry. As they land we meet our principal cast whom are divided-up into three distinct groups; the military, the scientist and the pilots. 

Our group of scientist are Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille), Dr. "Frankenstein" Logan (Richard Liberty, The Crazies) and Dr. Fisher (John Amplas, Martin). Logan is the lead scientist and is in the process of devising a cure and/or final solution to the zombie-plague, to this end he experiments on the undead, his latest patient is a zombie he nicknames "Bub" (Howard Sherman, TV's Seinfeld) whom is showing signs of an emerging intelligence, giving him hope that zombies can be rehabilitated, which even as a young teen  thought sounded pretty damn nutty, but it's an interesting point of exploitation for the film. 

Our second group are what seem to be civilian helicopter pilots,  a whiskey-sipping Irishman McDermott, (Jarlath Conroy) and an affable Jamaican named John (Terry Alexander, The Horror Show) whom are content to fly the bird from time to time when duty calls but wisely prefer to distance themselves from the science geeks and the military, preferring to drink and do their own thing separate from the feuding groups in a trailer location the underground bunker.

There's also a small group of brutish soldiers lead by the increasingly frustrated and unstable Capt. Rhodes (Joe Pilato, Pulp Fiction) who in the face of such a dire and apocalyptic situation begins to question just what the science nerds are up to and if there's any merit to Logan's bizarre and bloody experiments. This is the set-up that ignites the powder keg, things get tense when Logan suggest that zombies can be trained to behave, that's pretty much the last straw for Rhodes. When it's later discovered that Logan is actually rewarding Bub by feeding him scraps of meat carved from dead soldiers things turn for the worse for as what was previously a tense partnership turns downright deadly. 

Mostly set in the claustrophobic environs of an underground cavern Day of the Dead (1985) is frighteningly claustrophobic, it's dark and otherworldly, everyone is stressed to the nth degree, and Rhodes is a particularly venous and dangerous presence, threatening to shoot anyone one who disobeys his orders and he's perfectly willing to carry through with that threat without remorse. Just as nutty as Rhodes is our demented nerd Logan, a very memorable mad scientist character who clearly every bit as insane as the Capt, in fact I think I sympathize with Rhodes a bit more with each viewing, it's a fucked situation. 

I loved the gore-effects in the film, in Logan's lab a zombie breaks free of it's restraints and rises, his exposed intestines spill onto the floor as Logan casually walks over and puts a drill-bit through his forehead ceasing the threat, the lab is a real horror-show. Another zombie strapped to a table has had it's face and skull removed leaving only a brain attached to the body by the spinal cord, it's great stuff, no gorehound ever walked away from Day of the Dead disappointed. Special effects makeup master Tom Savini assisted by Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger were in top form, the effects are gut-churning, During the film's fantastic final third when the zombie make their way into the facility with the help of an unhinged soldier they just start tearing chunks of flesh apart, ripping people open and it's really creative stuff, a lot of it is on par with what we saw in John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), and it's certainly more visceral here, as a special effects film this is one of the goriest of 'em all. 

Romero's use of social commentary is fully intact, it may not be as in-your-face and as goofy as the consumerism critique of Dawn but it's felt, this time out Romero plays with the tensions between the scientists and the military, and it's pretty tense stuff. Can you imagine being holed-up in an underground cavern, zombies are encroaching at an alarming rate, soldiers are dying at a steady clip. and the science guys wanna train the undead, the military is becoming increasingly unhinged and hostile, it's a recipe for unhappiness and this is a pretty bleak film from the top down, it's much darker than the previous entry and not just because it's set underground, it's a depressing watch and one without the benefit (or detriment, depends on your view) of the occasional comedy break we had with Dawn, which may be why I prefer the Argento cut of Dawn, it removes a lot of the goofiness of Romero's cut.

Day of the Dead may not have been as widely appreciated in the past as Romero's Night and Dawn but I think fans are shifting their opinion of this film much the same way as I have with each subsequent viewing, it's a dark and unrelenting watch with a lot of great gore and some dynamic human interactions, a classic zombie film, still one of the best ever, period. 

Blu-ray: Shout! Factory imprint Scream factory offer up Romero's Day of the Dead (1985) with a brand-new MPEG4-AVC encode on a dual layered 1080p Blu-ray and it's quite a treat, there's a nice fine layer of film grain that's not too intrusive and colors are significantly warmer than the previous 2007 Anchor Bay edition which was bit cold, especially with skin tones and this is a nice step-up from that. This is a very dark film, much of it filmed underground, so don't expect the most vibrant viewing but colors are quite nice, it looks great. Fine detail may be slightly improved from the Anchor Bay edition but only by degrees, the warmer color grading is very much appreciated. 

Scream Factory have chosen to stay true to the original mono presentation with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 option with English subtitles. The Anchor Bay edition sported a PCM 5.1 mix, while I do appreciate the pureness of the mono I would have enjoyed a newly minted 5.1 to open up the sound field a bit, the mono a bit shallow but the dynamic range is decent and well-balanced, John Harrison's score sounds quite nice. Arrow's R2 edition and Anchor Bay's 2-disc DVD and Blu-ray featured some re-dubbed dialogue that upset a few fans, for example at the 9:35 mark the word "shit" was replaced with "right", I am pleased to confirm that Scream Factory's edition does not feature the re-dubbed dialogue, so kudos to Scream for fixing that issue. 

Onto the extras we have a few brand-new Scream-produced extras beginning with the new documentary World's End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead (85 Minutes) and even if you've watched the Many Days of Day of the Dead doc on previous edition this is a fantastic watch, a first-rate feature length doc and it alone would warrant purchase of this edition even without the improved transfer.

Absent from this release is the inclusion of Sean Clark's Horror's Hallowed Ground's featurette, in it's place we find Ed Demko of Cult Magazine and Bloodtype Online hosting a tour of the Wampum Mines location, A Look into the Day of the Dead Mines (7:37), the location is inspired and this is a great tour with Ed whom at one point performs some choice dialogue from the film as he tours the underground facility with longtime mine employee Skip Docchio. 

The remaining extras are ported over from the 2007 Anchor Bay edition and include two audio commentaries, the first with director George A. Romero, Make-up Effects artist Tom Savini, Production Designer Cletus Anderson and 

actress Lori Cardille and it's loaded with facts and bits of trivia, a must-listen for fans. The second commentary is supplied by Day of the Dead super-fan  writer/director Roger Avery (Pulp Fiction, Killing Zoe) and it's a pretty great listen from a different perspective, glad to see it brought over for this release. 

Finishing up the extras we have trailers, TV spots, and several extensive photo galleries plus some fantastic behind-the-scenes video courtesy of make-up effects master Tom Savini, fun stuff,  it was great to see the set-ups for many of the film's ultra-gory sequences. Missing from this set is the audio interview with actor Richard Liberty and the Anchor Bay produced featurette The Many Days of Day of the Dead, but on it's own this is a great edition. 

Packing extras include a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original theatrical poster art plus newly commissioned artwork from artist Nathan Thomas Milliner who also did the artwork for Scream's edition of Joe Dante's The Howling (1981), very nice stuff. His artwork is also featured on the slipcase for the disc, too.  

Scream Factory Special Features: 
- New High Definition Transfer
- New Documentary - World’s End: The Legacy of “Day of the Dead (85 Minutes) *
- New UNDERGROUND: A Look into the DAY OF THE DEAD mines (7 Minutes) *

- Audio Commentary with writer/director George A. Romero, Special
Make-up Effects artist Tom Savini, Production Designer Cletus Anderson and
actress Lori Cardille
- Audio Commentary with filmmaker Roger Avary

- Wampum Mine Promotional Video (8 Minutes)
- Behind-The-Scenes Footage from Special Make-up Effects Creator Tom Savini’s
archives (30 Minutes)
- Photo Galleries (42 Minutes)
- Theatrical Trailers (6 Minutes)
- TV Spots (2 Minutes)

It should be noted that unlike many of the recent Scream Factory Collector's
Edition Blu-rays (The Howling, Phantasm II) Day of the Dead does not
port over every special feature from the previous editions, for the sake of
comparison let's have look at the Anchor Bay Blu-ray features from a few
years ago and see how it stacks up...

Anchor Bay Blu-ray Special Features:
- Commentary by George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Lori Cardile, and Cletus
- Commentary by filmmaker Roger Avery
- MANY DAYS OF DAY OF THE DEAD documentary (39 Minutes) *
- DAY OF THE DEAD: Behind the Scenes (30 Minutes)
- Last audio interview with actor Richard Liberty conducted by Taso N.
Stavrakis and Telleria (16:08) *

- Gateway Commerce Center featurette (8 Minutes)
- 7 Still Galleries (43 Minutes)
- George Romero Biography/Filmography
- 3 Trailers
- 3 TV Spots
- DVD-ROM: Original 166 page draft of DAY OF THE DEAD; Production Memos *

* exclusive to each edition 

Verdict: For years I have been a bit cold on Romero's Day of the Dead (1985), I much preferred Dawn of the Dead (1978) and it's characters, plus I just loved the location, the mall was such an inspired idea to me as a teen, the commentary on consumerism appealed to me and I loved the goofiness of it. Day is way more claustrophobic, it's tense and moody, and as I have aged I definitely enjoy Day a bit more with every viewing and Scream Factory's new transfer was a great excuse to throw it on again, not that I needed a reason, I watch it at least once a year, it's actually starting to inch up on Dawn as my favorite Dead film. When it comes down to which edition to own I must say that Scream's Blu-ray has the more favorable transfer but it lacks a few extras that would make this the definitive edition, so hang onto that Anchor Bay Blu-ray for the 5.1 and a few extras, but as a fan of the film you need this one on your shelf. It's a powerful film, the transfer is awesome and the new doc is outstanding, highly recommended even if it's a double-dip. 4 Outta 5 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Blu-ray Review: AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL (1972) Deluxe Limited Edition 3-Disc Set

Deluxe Limited Edition 3-Disc Set 

Region Code: Region FREE
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 93 Minutes 
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 1.0, English Dolby Digital 5.1 with Optional Hebrew Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Amos Sefer 
Cast: Asher Tzarfati, Schuel Wolf, Shmuel Wolf, Tzila Karney

Synopsis: Originally filmed in 1972, AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL stars Asher Tzarfati as a dope-smoking Vietnam vet wandering through an insane desert landscape of “machine-gun wielding mimes, robots, bloodthirsty sharks, free-loving debauchery and poignant anti-war monologues”.

An American hippie Mike (Asher Tzarfati) arrives in Israel after a gut-churning stint in Viet Nam to spread love and peace when he's picked-up alongside the road 
by Elizabeth (Lily Avidan) and pretty soon the two meet-up with like-minded free loving hippies where they engage in free-love and folk-singing until two evil machine gun-toting mimes arrive at their love shack (a warehouse) and spray the room with hippie-ending hot lead. The only survivors are Mike, Elizabeth and a young couple (actors Shmuel Wolf and Tzila Karney), they flee the carnage at the warehouse and end-up on a stony outcrop of an island, it's just a barren rock of a place with only the ruins of an ancient building atop a small hill. It's here that the four hippies convince themselves that this is the place where they can escape from the hate of the world and live in peace far from the corruption of society... until they realize that they're stranded and have no food and no water to sustain themselves, things devolve quickly and it's not too long until our free-thinking hippies transform from peace-lovers into barbaric cave-men leading to an apocalyptic end.

What a weird watch, his is 70's hippie cult cinema at it's worst (or best, you decide), full of nutty hippie monologues about living free and loaded with anti-war rants, ya it's a bunch of dope-smoking hippie bullshit and the dialogue is delivered in the most deliciously awful straight-faced way, these guys were serious about what they were doing, they just weren't doing it very well, the acting is straight-up awful but it's fun in a bad cinema sorta way, if you love shitty films I am pretty sure I just watched you're next favorite film. It's pretty fun stuff as only a bad movie can be, unintentionally funny, with shitty production values with some entertaining low-rent surrealism tossed-in plus some wonderful nudity, which almost (but not really) made-up for the ear-shredding folk soundtrack. 

Blu-ray: It's been quite awhile since we've seen a home video release from Grindhouse Releasing and for their initial Blu-ray offering they've unearthed quite a rarity, a film I have never heard of until they announced it, a very strange cult obscurity that gets it's first-ever home video release of any kind. The psychedelic oddity, which is limited to just 2,000 individually numbered copies is presented in 1080 widescreen (1.78:1) with an AVC encode and it's not he most pristine 1080 image you've ever seen but it looks pretty nice for what it is, and what it is is a super low-budget cult film hat's been sitting around for forty years gathering dust, the hi-def restoration can only do so much and this is a fairly flat hi-def presentation, there are some occasional  moments of depth but don't expect too much, okay. Colors are faded and the contrast is poor, the print itself is is decent shape, there's some minor scratches and instances of dirt and white specks but it's not too shabby. 

There are two audio options, an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track and the Bonus 5.1 Audio Track - The Beverly Cinema Experience, which puts you right in the theater seat watching the films with an audience, a nice option when you're feeling lonely and wish you had some like minded friends to watch movies with, pretty neat. The mono track like the image is pretty flat and not dynamic at all, the dialogue was dubbed so it has that odd disconnect which might actually enhance the viewing of this particular film, it's a strange trip.  

Grindhouse does not disappoint with the extras, pretty extensive stuff for such a strange and obscure title, that's why we love Grindhouse Releasing, a;ways going the extra mile! This is a 3-disc set, a Blu-ray and DVD featuring the theatrical film and extras, mirrored on both discs. A third disc, available exclusively on the limited edition 3-disc set, features the longer running uncensored director's cut with burned-in Hebrew subtitles presented in fullframe (1.33:1), the video and audio quality is pretty shabby, it makes for a fun grindhouse viewing, warts and all. 

There's also screen test without an audio track, nearly an hour's worth of interviews with co-stars with Asher Tzarfati and Shmuel Wolf recorded in 2009, interviews with actress/singer Susan Devore (7:08) and assistant production manager Moshe Berman (4:00), a Channel 10 Tel Avi News Segment (10:22)A Cult Is Born - Featurette On Revival In Tel Aviv (4:09), a poor quality 16mm short film called Be Careful Children by Amos Sefer (6:53), Asher Tzarfati - An Israeli Actor In Israel - Bonus Featurette (17:53), the aforementioned Beverly Experience 5.1 audio track and Liner Notes By Acclaimed Horror Novelist John Skipp and a couple of fun Easter Eggs if you have the urge to seek them out, I recommend that you do, one of 'em is pretty funny. 

Special Features: 
- Spectacular New Hi-Definition Digital Restoration Of The Original U.S. Theatrical Version

 - THE HITCHHIKER, The Uncensored Director's Cut
- Six Controversial Scenes Deleted From The Original Release (10:05)
- In-depth Interviews With Stars Asher Tzarfati And Shmuel Wolf (56:08
- Asher Tzarfati - An Israeli Actor In Israel - Bonus Featurette (17:53)
- Interview With Production Manager Moshe Berman (4:00)
- Interview With Singer/Co-Star Susan Devore (7:08)
- Channel 10 Tel Avi News Segment (10:22)
- A Cult Is Born - Featurette On Revival In Tel Aviv (4:09)
- 16mm Screen Tests (9:11)
- Be Careful Children - Amos Sefer 16mm Short Film (6:53)
- Bonus 5.1 Audio Track - The Beverly Cinema Experience 
- Liner Notes By Acclaimed Horror Novelist John Skipp
- Still Galleries (5:00)
- Trailer (3:02)
- Filmographies
- Optional Hebrew Sub-Titles
- Grindhouse Releasing Prevues Of Coming Attractions
- Easter Eggs 

Verdict: Certainly a wacky watch, I enjoyed it and strongly recommend this to the brave devourers of strange cinema, definitely a drunken group viewing with weirdo friends, I can see this appealing to fans of such disparate filmmakers as Ed Wood (Plan 9 from Outer Space), Alejandro Jodorowsky (Holy Mountain) and Jose Mojica Marins (Coffin Joe), whom are all different but equally strange directors who've gifted the world with surreal slices of cinema. Honestly, not a huge fan of the film, it's pretty shit but that's exactly what's so damn enjoyable about it. It's a pretty great set from Grindhouse Releasing, great to see 'em back on the market with new and weird stuff, even if I can think of about a few hundred other films I'd rather see get the deluxe Blu-ray treatment. Speaking of which, up next from Grindhouse Releasing is the Peter Cushing horror-shocker Corruption (1967) making it's U.S. debut on home video! 2.75 Outta 5 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Blu-ray Review: PSYCHO II (1983) Collector's Edition

PSYCHO II (1983) 
Collector's Edition Blu-ray 

Label: Shout! Factory / Scream Factory

Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 113 Minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Richard Franklin
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dinnis Franz
Tagline: It's 22 Years Later and Norman Bates is Coming Home...

Wow, a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) ...the size of the fucking balls on Universal Studios in 1983 and just a few years after the Master of Suspense's death, you just know they would never have done it while he was still drawing breath. I cannot even imagine what that pitch was like, then again I can't believe Universal greenlit Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of it in 1999 either, that was just a bad idea from the ground up. In '83 it was decades before the remake craze possessed Hollywood, shit now they're remaking John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) and it won't be long until Jaws (1975) gets the re imagining treatment, like there just haven't been enough Jaws rip-offs over the years, huh? 

Anyway, I remember seeing this one in the video store shelves ages ago and watching it, even as a kid I scoffed at the idea of a sequel to Psycho (1960) but I just had to know what they'd done to besmirch the original, call it a morbid curiosity. truly, I was expecting something quite awful but oddly enough I was wrong. Directed by Australian filmmaker Richard Franklin who had previously directed the neat ozploitation oddity Patrick (1978) about a comatose patient with telekinetic powers and the road trip slasher film Road Games (1981) starring Stacey Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis, he didn't seem like the obvious choice, makes me wonder who turned down the job beforehand. The script was written by a young writer named Tom Holland who would go on to direct Fright Night (1985) and it was lensed by cinematographer Dean Cundey fresh of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) and John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), on just talent alone this is actually starting to sound pretty good on paper 

Onto the cast we have Anthony Perkins reprising his iconic role as Norman Bates, also returning is Vera Miles as Lila Loomis, the sister of shower victim Marion Crane. The cast is filled out with Meg Tilly (Body Snatchers) as Norman's co-worker Mary, Robert Loggia (Lost Highway) as Norman's psychiatrist Dr. Raymond and Dennis Franz (Blow Out) playing what he seemed to do best in the 80's, a sleazeball. Perkins snaps right back into the mindset of Norman Bates, it's a scary good performance and he picks it up just fine after 22 years, it's creepy good. Robert Loggia definitely plays against type in a role that's pretty reserved compared to what I know him from, he's a pretty compassionate guy here. Vera Miles reprising her role as Lila Loomis is a nice touch, she's quite upset that after 22 years her sister's murderer is released from the loony bin, it sets her off. Tilly is also quite good as the naive good girl with a twist, I won't spoil it but this is a pretty crafty and deft script, loved the twists and turns, it's a fun 80's slasher with quite a pedigree. 

Alright, a great creative team and a  committed cast, this is starting to sound pretty damn good, and on top of that Richard Franklin and Tom Holland turn out to be quite devoted student of Hitchcock, you can feel his presence in nearly every frame, there's a lot of tense atmosphere and suspense, Holland's script is superb and Franklin's direction is top notch. I think it's probably his best work but I do have quite a soft spot for the kid friendly spy caper Cloak and Dagger (1984), also penned by Holland. 

Watching this again on Blu-ray I think I enjoyed it even more than on previous watches, my appreciation for how Frankilin and Holland were able to channel the Hitchcock vibe so true it would give Brian De Palma cinematic envy, it really works for me on every level. It arrived in cinema's at the end of the slasher-cycle it helped birth, where Hitchcock was more refined in terms of on-screen carnage this one goes right for throat with more gratuitous violence than you might expect and I just loved it from start to finish.

Blu-ray: Psycho II (1983) arrives on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory with an AVC encoded 1080p widescreen (1.85:1) transfer and it looks fantastic, way better than my 2007 Universal DVD beginning with a nice layer of fine film grain which offers up some very nice fine detail. The colors are crisp and vibrant, black levels are deep and there's a wonderful clarity which gives the image some depth, was pleasantly surprised how nice Psycho II (1983) looks in 1080p. 

Audio options include English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and 5.1, the newly minted 5.1 one is effective with some spatial ambiance even if the surrounds aren't overly active. Dialogue is always clear, effects are clean and Jerry Goldsmith's score sounds great. 

Special features include an Audio Commentary with Screenwriter Tom Holland moderated by Rob Galluzzo, writer/director of the The Psycho Legacy, Holland's a pretty talkative guy and has a lot to offer from the perspective of a young, up and coming writer in Hollywood, mentioning alternate casting choices (Carrie Fisher) and some fun anecdotes about he cast including friction between stars Anthony Perkins and Meg Tilly. Also included is a vintage Universal Electronic Press Kit which is a weird hodgepodge of clips and interviews with the cast including some vintage footage of Hitchcock, a decent time waster. 

Finishing-up the extras are a selection of audio interviews with the cast and crew, trailers, TV Spots and a still image gallery with 81 images of behind-the-scenes pics, production stills, and poster art.  

Special Features: 

- All-new Audio Commentary with Screenwriter Tom Holland
- Vintage interviews with cast and crew including Anthony Perkins and director Richard Franklin (35:21)
- Vintage audio interviews with cast and crew
- TV Spots (2:01)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (3:43) 

- Stills Gallery (6:37) 

Verdict: Sure, a sequel to Psycho (1960) just seems like the worst idea ever but director Richard Franklin and writer Tom Holland handle the material with a lot of respect and with a few fun winks and nods, plus it's a damn fine film on it's own. I quite enjoyed this sequel and Scream Factory's transfer and extras are top notch, you may be a doubter but I strongly suggest a viewing, particularly for you slasher fans, this is fun stuff. 3.5 Outta 5 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Blu-ray Review: HALLOWEEN (1978) 35th Anniversary Edition

35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray

Label: Anchor Bay Entertainment 
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 92 minutes
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 7.1. Original Mono with Optional English SDH Subtitles 
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis
Director: John Carpenter

Synopsis: In 1978, Compass International Pictures released an indie horror film by an up and coming director and a largely unknown cast. Presented by the late Moustapha Akkad, the film cost $325,000 and ended up not only becoming one of the most successful independent motion pictures of its time, but single handedly created the genre of the modern horror film along with the first iconic (via a painted-over William Shatner mask) cinematic slasher!

The idea is simplicity itself, why no one thought to make Halloween-themed slasher before John Carpenter did in 1978 is actually a bit odd now that I think about it. Sure, Bob Clark's xmas proto-slasher Black Christmas (1974) might have begun the holiday-themed deathride a few years earlier, but Carpenter nailed Halloween first and best, period.

Halloween (1978) as if you didn't already know, for fuck's sake I hope you know, concerns a young man named Michael Myers whom one Halloween night 1963 just up and snapped, he put on a clown mask and slashed his promiscuous teen sister to death with a butcher knife, afterward he is sent away to Smith's Grove Sanitarium where he remains for 15 years, until he escapes, returning to the Haddonfield, Illinois to murder again... and again. 

His psychiatrist Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance, Cul-De-Sac) knows just where Myers is headed, but when he warns the local Haddonfield police they don't seem overly concerned about the dead-eyed murderer coming to town, and just in time for Halloween, too. 

Local teen Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, Terror Train) is babysitting young Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews, Angel Dusted) while across the street her friend Annie (Nancy Kyes, The Fog) babysits Lindsey (Kyle Richards, The Watcher in the Woods), but when Annie takes off to pick-up her boyfriend Paul she drops the young girl off with Laurie, setting up one of the most unforgettable slasher classics of all time. 

John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) is a superb, tightly-knit chiller with a cold, motiveless killer and a group of likable Mid West teens who for whatever reason are caught up in a fateful night of murder, and the kills while mostly bloodless are just as effective and brutal even after countless watches. Jamie Lee Curtis is great as the naive good girl, she pretty much set the gold standard for the final girl in slasher films for the next twenty years, her piercing screams are unforgettable. Of course, every good girl has to have a few promiscuous friends, enter P.J. Soles (Animal House) as the sex-loving Lynda, who quips "totally" in the cutest way ever, her death scene is a bogeyman classic, and when her boyfriend Bob's demise is perfectly executed and brutal. The body count here is not the stuff of legend but their impact is devastating, you actually care for these characters quite a bit. My favorite death has always been Annie, she jumps in her car to pick-up her boyfriend when she realizes something odd about the windshield, there's condensation on the inside, just as she realizes she might not be alone... too late, a classic death.

Carpenter originally wanted Hammer icon Christopher Lee (Dracula: Prince of Darkness) or Peter Cushing (Horror Express) for the role of Dr. Loomis but instead ended-up with Donald Pleasance whom already had a storied career including memorable appearances in Roman Polanski's Cul-De-Sac (1966), Raw Meat (1973) and the Amicus horror anthology From Beyond the Grave (1974) but this is the role that would cement his place forever in the annals of horror cinema, even if his performance in a few the later sequels bordered overwrought parody, in Halloween (1978) he was pure perfection showing concern, frustration and anxiety in just the right amounts. 

Even after 35 years John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) is a perfectly scary watch, it's a tense, atmospheric suburban-nightmare, a group of teens versus a killer with no discernible motive, he's a shape, the shape of evil and he's coming to your town and there's very little you can do to stop him. Damn, when I saw this on TV as a kid trick or treating on Halloween night was just scarier, I would see that white mask emerging form every damn shadow on the street, it really affected me and while I'm a bit old for trick or treating and I don't see Myers peering at me from the shadows anymore Halloween is still the best damned slasher ever made.

Blu-ray: For this 35th Anniversary Edition of John Carpenter's seminal slasher classic Anchor Bay went back to the vault and creating an brand-new HD transfer supervised by the film’s original cinematographer, the Prince of Darkness himself, Dean Cundey and what we get is quite a step-up from the previous Anchor Bay Blu-ray I am pleased to report. There's a nice fine layer of film grain present throughout, no grain-scrubbing here, we get a crisp image with a pleasing amount of fine detail, it's wonderful. The brightness had been toned down quite a bit, the previous Blu suffered a bit with brightness boosting and hot skin tones, this is a more natural and pleasing image, fans are gonna be thrilled by the new transfer. 

Audio options include a newly minted Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and the Original Mono with Optional Spanish and English SDH Subtitles, and like the transfer it's quite nice beginning with John Carpenter's iconic score, it's one of the most recognizable pieces of film music with good reason, the chilling piano and the deep throb of the low-end, it's a thing of beauty, the Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" has never sounded better. Score, dialogue and effects come through clean, well-balanced and with nice clarity, the 7.1 definitely adds some atmosphere and depth to the proceedings, I far prefer it to the original mono, so I am not an absolute purist in the audio department, I do enjoy a decent surround remix and I think this one's done very well. 

Fantastic transfer and engaging 7.1 aside let's have a look at what the 35th is packing in terms of extras beginning with a brand new audio commentary with writer/director John Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis, not a lot of new revelations here but it's great to hear these two sit down and watch/discuss the film. 

 “The Night She Came Home” (59:43) is a new featurette with Jamie Lee Curtis detailing her one and only horror convention appearance to help support her charity causes, it's a fun watch as we see the fans line-up and pour on the love for Curtis while she shows much love and respect for fans of the film. I do recall hearing about this convention appearance a few months back and there was some negative buzz about the prices she was charging for photo ops and this answered a lot of those criticisms for me. It pretty much covers every facet of her appearance from pre-arrival to post-convention, going into this I was bummed it wasn't a new doc about the film but I was thoroughly  entertained

Anchor Bay dig up a vintage featurette with On Location: 25 Years Later (10:25), a narrated extra revisiting the South Pasadena locations with contributions from producer Debra Hill and actress P.J. Soles, it's sorta a mini-making of doc that also touches on the casting and genesis of the film. 

Not sure how I've avoided seeing the TV Version of the film for so long but included on the disc are the Additional Scenes from TV Version (10:46) which was an interesting watch having never seen 'em, but I was also a bit disappointed that the 35th Anniversary Edition did not offer he TV Version as a branching option instead of separate from the film, not that they're all that fantastic but just something for the fans, a more definitive edition. 

The last of the extras on the disc are a selection of trailers, TV spots and radio spots, love me some radio spots and pleased they included them here. Onto the packaging this limited edition release comes in Digibook-styled case with foil lettering and new artwork from artist Jay Shaw, it also features a 20-page essay with writing on the film by film historian Stef Hutchinson, there's some great behind-the-scenes photographs, it's a good read. Love how when you open the cover the first image you see is the iconic theatrical artwork, something I didn't love so much is the way the disc slips into cardboard envelope on the inside back cover of the Digibook, not a fan of slip-ins, much prefer snap-ons, but that's just a personal preference. 

It's no surprise to me, considering just how many different editions of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead Trilogy and Halloween (1978) Anchor Bay have released through the years, that they have chosen not port over every extra for the 35th Anniversary Edition... not surprised but maybe slightly disappointed. Would have loved to see a definitive version of the film with the previous John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Debra Hill commentary, a branching version that includes the TV footage, the fact track and the Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest documentary. Groaning aside, it's still a damn fine edition and there's always the 40th anniversary, don't think for a moment that's not in the works already. 

Special Features:

- All-new commentary track with writer/director John Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis
- “The Night She Came Home” new featurette with Jamie Lee Curtis (59:43) 

- On Location: 25 Years Later (10:25) 
- Trailer (2:42) 
- TV Spot 1 (0:32)
- TV Spot 2 (0:32)
- TV Spot 3 (0:12)
- Radio Spot 1 (0:29)
- Radio Spot 2 (0:27)
- Radio Spot  3 (0:28) 
- Additional Scenes from TV Version (10:46)

Verdict: Sure, I might bemoan the fact that this is not the one-stop definitive edition of the film I would have hoped for with my laundry list of extras but make no mistake about it, Anchor Bay's 35th Anniversary Blu-ray of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) is a thing of chilling beauty with the best transfer yet and a wonderful audio presentation with some great extras, Halloween is the seminal slasher, the one that all others pale in comparison to, and while plenty of fun, tit-riddled slashers came after it none have unmasked it. 5 Outta 5