Wednesday, September 30, 2015

MOSQUITO (1995) - 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

MOSQUITO (1995) 
20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION 

Label: Synapse Films

Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: R
Duration: 92 Minutes
Release Date: October 13, 2015
Audio: English DTS-HD MA English 7.1 Surround, DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: Gary Jones
Cast: Gunnar Hansen, Ron Asheton, Steve Dixon, Rachel Loiselle, Tim Lovelace

Synopsis: Science-fiction becomes horrifyingly real for a park full of innocent campers, as a hideous horde of mutated mosquitos viciously attack without warning! A band of survivors flees the bloodthirsty swarm in a death-defying attempt to warn the world of the mosquito menace. Led by a brave young couple and a resourceful government agent, the group realizes their only hope is to take on the bloodthirsty bugs in an explosive final showdown! A chilling blend of sci-fi, humor and old-school horror, MOSQUITO is a tour de force of terror. Starring genre icon Gunnar Hansen (the original “Leatherface” from THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE) and the late, great Ron Asheton (founding member of the punk rock band, The Stooges), MOSQUITO is a gore-drenched tale made with traditional stop-motion and practical effects!

Mosquito is a title I have known of for many years but had never watched, I just never caught it on TV and the out-of-print DVD has been so damn expensive for quite awhile so I just skipped it. Maybe if I had known what an awesome science-fiction giant bug movie I was missing out on I would have splurged, because this is a pretty awesome bug movie!


An alien ship in Earth's orbit drops a shuttle into our atmosphere, the alien-craft crashes into a swamp a short time later. In a sweet nods to War of the Worlds the arm of the dead alien-pilot spills from an opening in the craft, a mosquito sucks some of the alien blood causing the mosquitos in the area to grow to six-feet in length, which is what our protagonists are up against here. Young couple Megan (Rachelle Loiselle) and Ray (Tim Lovelace) are driving through the area o the way to her new job, working for the National Parks.En route they splatter an over sized skeeters with their car, it's proboscis piercing the radiator of their car, its mangled carcass lays in the the road. Megan thinks it might be a bug, but she's not sure, she knows animals, not bugs. Park Ranger Hendricks (Ron Asheton of proto-punkers The Stooges!) is seen spaying mosquito repellent throughout the local camp ground, the mosquito's are out in force but he has no idea just how bad it's gonna get before the night is over. Also in the area of the National Park are a trio of bank robbers lead by Earl (Gunnar Hansen, none other than Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre), these miscreants are the first to encounter the giant blood-sucking menace in the woods, they accidentally shoot one of their own while trying to shoot the bug. 


Also in woods this day is an Air Force meteorologist named Parks (Steve Dixon) who's in the area is tracking down a radioactive meteor that may have fallen in the area, not realizing it was the alien craft, or that over sized blood-sucking mutant mosquitos are in the area. Eventually all parties converge, some are drained of blood, and the rest must face off against the over sized blood-sucking menace of the giant mosquitos.


The addition of Gunnar Hansen is a nice bit of stunt casting for this silly sci-fi horror mash-up, he begins as a bad guy but evolves ham-fistedly into a decent anti-hero, which allows him to face-off against some skeeters with a chainsaw. Ron Asheton of rockers The Stooges supporting role as the comedy-relief is welcomes, I had no I Asheton was an actor or that he was so damn funny, he fits perfectly into this humorous splatter movie. 


The movie is ripe with practical special effects, the giant mosquitoes look fantastic and when they attack we get some great shots of them piercing the flesh and eye-sockets of victims, including a the unfortunate woman taking a skeeter-sting to the ass, fun stuff. There's some stop-motion and animated sequences throughout, they're not as effective as the rubber-prop bugs but I love all the old giant monster-movie tricks they use to achieve the effects, this is a fun love-letter to those movies of yesteryear we all watched on TV as kids. 


Audio/Video: Mosquito arrives on Blu-ray from Synapse Films with a few unsavory qualities, it was shot on 16, and then blown-up to 35mm, this new HD master is sourced from the director's own 35mm interpositive, as such the movie is very grainy and rather flat looking, with inherent softness to the image. Not great but probably a lot better than anything we've had before, colors are strong, skin tones are decent, and black levels are acceptable. Not the most ideal PQ, but you know Synapse put everything they could into bringing this to Blu-ray with the best possible picture they could. 


Surprisingly we get a DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround mix for this b-movie bugger, there's not a ton of use of the surrounds but it does offer some ambiance to the presentation, there's also a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo option, English SDH subtitles are provided. 


Onto the extras we begin with an audio commentary with Director Gary Jones, Director of Photography and Co-Writer Tom Chaney, and Producer David Thiry loaded with anecdotal info about all facets of making the movie, how certain effects were achieved and pointing out the flaws along the way. There's also an hour long making of documentary from Red Shirt Pictures with interviews from Director/Co-Writer Gary Jones, Stars Gunnar Hansen, Tim Lovelace, Rachel Loiselle, Mike Hard, and Josh Becker, Director of Photography & Co-Writer Tom Chaney, and Producer David Thiry. A lot of it is director Gary Jones and Tom Chaney revisiting the make shift studio and various locations used in the production including Chaney's own parents home, which is the location of the final stand-off against the skeeters. 


There's also seven-minutes of deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary from Jones, plus forty-minutes of behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the movie, also with optional commentary. Extras are finished-up with a theatrical trailer and a still galley, plus a sleeve of reversible artwork


Special Features:

- Audio Commentary with Director Gary Jones, Director of Photography and Co-Writer Tom Chaney, and Producer David Thiry
- "Bugging Out!" The Making of Mosquito - Featurette (66 Mins) HD 
- Deleted/Extended Scenes with Optional Director Commentary (7 Mins) HD   
- Behind-the-Scenes Footage with Optional Director Commentary (40 Mins) 
- Still Gallery (5 Mins) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (3 Mins) HD 
- Reversible Cover Art

Mosquito (1995) is a fun giant bug b-movie loaded with some awesome practical special effects and gore, it's very goofy and low-budget but it has a lot of heart and the 20th Anniversary Edition from Synapse is loaded with some entertaining extras, this is a very enjoyable slice of b-movie cheese from the nineties. 3/5


MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966) - SPECIAL EDITION

MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966) 

Label: Synapse Films

Release Date: October 13, 2015
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 73 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Full-Frame (1.33:1)
Region: All Regions
Cast: Tom Neyman, John Reynolds, Diane Mahree, Hal Warren, Jackey Neyman
Director: Harold P. Warren


Manos begins with a cold start, no credits and no titles, we have nuclear family Mike (Harold P. Warren) and Maggie (Diane Mahree) on a ill-fated road trip through rural Texas with their adolescent daughter Debbie (Jackie Raye Neyman), along with the family dog "Peppie". Along the way the stubborn Mike makes a wrong turn and the doomed family become stranded at a weird lodge out in the middle of nowhere. There they meet a strange caretaker named Torgo (John Reynolds) who has a strange leg deformity, and walks with the aid of walking staff with a hand-shaped design atop it, and then they meet the cult leader, known only as The Master (Tom Neyman). Oh, and his legion of polygamous cult-wives, of which he would like to make Maggie one of, but first he must dispose of her husband and child. This is the very simple set-up of Manos: The Hands of Fate, the sole directorial effort of Texas fertilizer salesman, turned inept b-movie maker, Harold P. Warren, a poorly conceived cult-thriller starring a cast of nobodies who like himself would never again make a movie, and with good reason. 

The "standouts" of the movie are the caretaker Torgo and the cult-leader "The Master" played by John Reynolds and Tom Neyman. Reynolds line delivery is strange to say the least, an oddly pitched voice, he's a lowly bearded henchman who dreams of having his own wife, coveting the Master's six-wives until Maggie shows up at the lodge, his desire for her is what causes a rift between the two men. He has a physical deformity, a bulging of the knees which seem to imply he might be some sort of mythical satyr, a hoof creature. The Master as played by Neyman is sort of awesome, a pale-faced stagey performance as he makes prayer to the evil spirit of Manos, "the primal darkness who dwells in the depths of the universe in the black chasms of night", this is good stuff and super hokey, these are some of the best lines in the movie and Neyman is playing it up for all it worth. The Master wears an iconic black robe with the huge red hands imprinted upon it, that damn robe is probably the one genius thing about this movie, it's pretty awesome. There are a few fun flourishes to be found, a painting of The Master with a glowing-eyed demon-dog hangs on the wall, that is something I would definitely hang on my own wall. There's also an abundance of hand-themed sculptures throughout the movie, which was sort of neat. 



The Master's wives bicker about the fate of the young child Debbie, the master wants her attractive mother for himself and condemns the child to death, but some of the wives want to keep the child for themselves, leading to some hair-pulling and girl-fighting among them. The actresses playing the cult-wives were borrowed from a local modeling school at the time, some attractive ladies but awful actresses. Mike's wife Maggie as played by model Diane Mahree, an attractive ginger with light-eyes and a smattering of freckles, very cute but an awful actress just like pretty much everyone else. That all the women were dubbed by the same voice-over actress probably doesn't help matters any, but even if they had dubbed their own voices this would still be a hot mess, there's just no way around it. 

Throughout the movie strange music cues pop-up ranging from jazzy pieces which at times reminded be of the Vince Guaraldi Trio Peanuts theme, plus an inappropriately suspenseful music cue that pops-up while Torgo is carrying luggage from the family's car to the lodge, and it sounds very much like a short snippet from the Twilight Zone theme. Technically this is a cluster fuck of a movie, loaded with bad lighting, awful acting, and some of the worst editing you will ever see, rumor has it the entire movie as edited in a drunken four hour marathon at a local TV station, and by the look of the damn thing that is a certain possibility. Director Harold P. Warren, who stars as the khaki and cardigan wearing Mike, was in over his head with this Satanic slice of b-movie making. Maybe his heart was in the right place, but as they say, the road to b-movie Armageddon is paved with aspiring directors with good intentions.



Audio/Video: For years they were thought lost but somehow the original 16mm film elements have been finally unearthed and lovingly restored by Ben Solovey to create the definitive version of this awful cult-classic, and now on Blu-ray thanks to Synapse Films. I am not one who caught Manos on the Comedy central broadcasts of Mystery Science Theater 3000, no I found this one myself on one of those Mill Creek Entertainment  budget collections, log before I knew this had a cult-following and a reputation as one of the "worst movies ever", but watching it then I certainly knew it was a terrible movie, when I found out that it had a following and a b-movie bomb reputation I was not surprised. Ben Solovey has put a lot of love into this restoration, which is not to say this is gonna be a perfect presentation, it's not. Plagues by instances of print damage, discoloration, poor lighting and bad focus issues that were inherent to the original camerawork, but compared to what we had before this is a damn miraculous Resurrection of the movie. Shot on 16mm the movie has an abundance of large grain particles inherent to the format, but colors and textures are greatly improved, this is way more watchable with some damn fine restoration and clean-up having been done, preserving the awful cult-classic for years to come.


Audio comes by way of a restored English mono track which is also quite an improvement over previous version, but again your mileage may vary given the awful post-dubbing of the original movie, which can sound like it had been recorded in a large box, but it is clearer and stronger than ever before. Apparently all the women were dubbed by the same voice-over actress, including young Jackey Neyman as Debbie, the dub is giving "Bob" from Fulci's The House by the Cemetery as run for his money as the most-annoying dubbed performance in all of horror cinema. Optional English Subtitles are provided. 



Onto the bonus features we have some good stuff to dig through, beginning with an unrestored "grindhouse" version of the movie, enjoy the rough version without the benefit of any kind of restoration or color correction, a worn print of the movie with plenty of fading, dirt and scratches presented in HD.

There's a new commentary from Tom “The Master” Neyman and his daughter Jackey Raye “Debbie” Neyman-Jones. Tom portrayed "The Master" while his daughter Jackey Raye portrayed young Debbie. It's a good commentary filled with their recollections of making the movie and what it was like making this shitty b-movie, there a lot of laughing at what's happening on-screen throughout. The senior Neyman provided a lot of the design and costuming for the movie, offering the services of his car, wife and daughter for the production, including the hand-themed sculptures which he created. 

Also on the disc are three Ballyhoo Motion Pictures produced featurettes which go into the making and restoration of the movie. 'Hands: The Fate of "Manos"' is a 31-minute retrospective featuring Benjamin Solovely who spearheaded the restoration, actors Tom Neyman, Jackie Raye Neyman, Diane Adelson, the son of the actor who played the sheriff and the still photographer on set - all providing some insight into the making Manos. All the participants are very candid about how awful the movie is and what it was like making it, actress Diane Adelson sharing that director Harold P. Warren requested she drop her top during her audition, which she refused, I love that he replied that he was only testing her, that made me laugh. If you love this movie you need to own this release just for this mini-doc.


There's also a short piece with Benjamin Solovely who goes into great detail about the condition of the original film elements and how the restoration was done step by step, and what could and could not be fixed through restoration. The last featurette is a brief piece with writer/producer Rachel Jackson who speaks about the inspiration for her puppet stage show 'Manos: The Hands of Felt'. 


Special Features: 

- All-new 2K Restoration of MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE
- Audio Commentary with Tom Neyman and Jackey Raye Neyman-Jones
- Hands: The Fate of "Manos" – Featurette (31 Mins) HD 
- Restoring the Hands of Fate – Featurette (7 Mins) HD 
- Felt: The Puppet Hands of Fate – Featurette (4 Mins) HD 
- Manos: The Hands of Fate – “Grindhouse” Version (Blu-ray Only) (69 Mins) HD 

There's no getting around what an awful movie Manos: The Hands of Fate, but when a Texas fertilizer salesman makes a movie you sort of have to expect it to turn to shit, wouldn't you think? Truly awful and quite entertaining, the movie has a hokey charm about it that is watchable and fun, for me I love that there's so many scenes without a lot dialogue, it allows you to chime in with a few corny one-liners of your own, that's always a lot of fun with a roomful of friends and few beers. I love that this restoration was crowd-funded by fans, I love that Synapse Films are distributing it, and I love the entertaining extras on the disc. each one giving us a peek behind the curtain of one of the most worst movies of all time. If you love it cheap and crave drive-in era schlock this release right here is the b-movie holy grail of awfulness. 3/5


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

ANGST (1983)

ANGST (1983)

Label: Cult Epics

Region Code: 
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 87 Minutes
Audio: German DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround, German DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo, French DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Gerald Kargl 
Cast: Erwin Leder, Sylvia Rabenreither, Edith Rossett, Rudolf Gotz, Robert Hunger-Bihler

The Gerald Kargl directed film Angst (1983) begins with a psychopath having just being released from prison after serving time for the unprovoked shooting of an elderly actress. Now set free he walks the unfamiliar streets of Vienna looking for an opportunity to kill again. His mad thoughts and murderous intentions are expressed through first-person narration as he sits in a diner chewing schnitzel while fantasizing about the murder of two young women. When this fantasy proves to not be an option he leaves and hails a taxi, while in the backseat he pulls a shoelace from his shoe with the intention of strangling the woman driver, but when he is about to make his move the driver catches him in the rear view mirror, slamming on the breaks and forcing onto the street.

Once again he finds himself walking the unfamiliar streets, when through an open gate he takes note of a large home set away from the street - perhaps a perfect opportunity for a bit of the old ultra-violence, away from prying eyes of the streets. He sneaks around the perimeter of the home looking for signs of anyone at home, when he is satisfied no one is home breaks into the house, inside he finds a handicapped man in a wheelchair (Rudolf Götz) who poses no immediate threat. He explores the home while he waits for someone else to arrive, so he can satisfy his hunger for violence. A short time later an old woman (Edith Rosset) and who I assume to be her daughter (Silvia Rabenreither) arrive, not realizing an intruder is in their home the disturbed killer unleashes his fury upon them. 

Angst is also known as Schizophrenia, which is a more appropriate title, the murderer is clearly disturbed and not in full control of his actions. Actor Erwin Leder is disturbingly brilliant in the role of the psychopath, maybe channeling a little bit of the bug-eyed madman Klaus Kinski into his performance, which is unsettling to say the least, the way the violence is portrayed is honest, it's awkward and messy, the strange camerawork from Oscar-winning cinematographer Zbig Rybczynski makes you complicit in the killings in a way, you feel dirty, and the dizzying POV perfectly conveys the inherent insanity of the main character. Leder does a lot with very little dialogue, instead we have a lot of that first-person narration as the unsavory events play out, set to the pulsing electronic score of Tangerine Dream synth pioneer Klaus Schulze. 

The invalid young man is drown in a tub without mercy, while the women are dispatched of more viscerally, the attack on the old woman for a moment brought to mind Alex's attack on the cat-lady from Stanley Kubrick 'A Clockwork Orange', the younger woman frees herself from her bondage only to be dragged down and sliced open, the sexually excited killer pulling his pants down in excitement and drinking blood from her neck wounds, it is harrowing stuff, and it makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience, thanks in no small part to the intense performance from Erwin Leder. 

Audio/Video: Angst comes to Blu-ray in the U.S. courtesy of distributors Cult Epics with a solid AVC encoded transfer, presenting the movie with a very nice layer of film grain, the movie is mostly crisp and sharp but does show some softness at times with some minor white speckling from time to time, but looks pretty fantastic on Blu-ray. The disc offers three audio options, we have German DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround and 2.0 Stereo, plus a French DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo option. As per the suggestion of Gaspar Noé I went with the French option, but switched back and forth throughout. Dialogue and score are crisp and clean, the electronic score from Krautrock legend Klaus Schulze (of Tangerine Dream) sounds best to my ears on the French audio options, optional English subtitles are provided. 

The release from Cult Epics is stuffed with extras beginning with optional playback of the movie with or without the prologue, offering some insight into the mind of the characters early life and the contributing factors that lead to his mental illness. There's also a fan appreciation from Director Gaspar Noé (Into the Void) who admits to having watched the movie at least forty times.


There's also a new 21-minute interview with star Erwin Leder, plus vintage interviews with cinematographer Zbigniew Rybzcynski from 2004 and an interview with director Gerald Kargl by Jorg Buttgeriet (Nekromantik). Kargl also shows up in an Audio Commentary by conducted by film critic Marcus Stiglegger.

There's also a pretty hefty card stock 40 page booklet containing print interviews with Gerald Kargl, Erwin Ledger, Sylvia Babenreither. It is also illustrated with rare behind-the-scenes photographs, plus a macabre collection of the original Werner Kniesek murder news articles with English translations for each one. Additionally we have a collectible Blu-ray slipcase cover


Special Features:

- New HD Transfer
- Optional playback with or without Prologue
- New Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
- Introduction by Gaspar Noé (2012)
- Featurette: Erwin Leder in Fear (2015) (21 Mins) HD 
- Interview with Gerald Kargl by Jorg Buttgeriet (2003) (27 Mins) 
- Interview with cinematographer Zbigniew Rybzcynski (2004) (34 Mins) 
- Audio Commentary by Gerald Kargl conducted by film critic Marcus Stiglegger
- New HD Trailers: Schramm (3 Mins) HD, Angst (2 Mins) HD 
- 40 Page Booklet includes Interviews with Gerald Kargl, Erwin Ledger, Sylvia Babenreither. Illustrated with Rare Photographs and Werner Kniesek Original Killer Articles
- Collectible Blu-ray Slipcase and Sleeve

Angst is intense stuff, well-directed and attractively shot, it seems so strange that this is not a film I had even heard of before the announcement by Cult Epics a few months back. Director Gerald Kargl would never again direct a film after this one, which is a damn shame, he crafted a visceral slice of cinema shot with a steady hand and with a unique voice. The movie came out at the peak of the '80s slasher cycle, and sort of fits into it in a way with the stalking and slashing, but this goes way deeper, it;'s a character study of a killer that predated Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) by a few years, and stands an an equal to it in every way. Cult Epics have assembled a Criterion-worthy release that goes beyond even their already excellent Nekromantik Blu-rays. 4/5 

WE ARE STILL HERE (2015)

WE ARE STILL HERE (2015)

Label: Dark Sky Films

Region Code: A
Duration: 83 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: Englisg DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround, DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Ted Geoghegan
Cast: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie, Larry Fessenden, Monte Markham 

Synopsis: After their teenage son is killed in a car crash, Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) move to the quiet New England countryside to try to start a new life for themselves. But the grieving couple unknowingly becomes the prey of a family of vengeful spirits that reside in their new home, and before long they discover that the seemingly peaceful town they’ve moved into is hiding a terrifyingly dark secret. Now they must find a way to overcome their sorrow and fight back against both the living and dead as the malicious ghosts threaten to pull their souls – and the soul of their lost son – into hell with them. Co-starring Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie, writer-director Ted Geoghegan’s WE ARE STILL HERE is a tense, frightening, and thoroughly haunting modern ghost story.

WE ARE STILL HERE sets a tone right from the start, a rural home located in the icy cold desolation of Upstate New York during the dead of winter in the year 1979. A grieving couple share a silent car ride on the way to their new home, the one hundred year old Dagmore house, a former mortuary with a storied history of macabre activity. Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) have a distance between them, each grieving the loss of their beloved teenage son in their own way, with Paul putting up a strong front for his teary-eyed wife. Anne comes to suspect that the spirit of her dead son has somehow followed them to their new home and is trying to communicate with her. 

A creepy older neighbor named Dave McCabe (Markham) stops by for an unannounced visit with his wife, he informs the couple about the storied history of their new home, how the mortician Dagmore had sold cadavers for various uses, for science and for consumption apparently, before being run out of town by the villagers back in the day. It's an odd conversation to break the ice with but there is something very off about Mr. McCabe, and his wife, who secretly leaves a not on her way out, warning the couple that the house needs a family... but what does it mean?


Afterward Anne becomes increasingly becomes obsessed with the idea that something other worldly is lurking in the basement of home, something which causes picture frames to fall and for the floor boards to creak without reason, the usual sort of haunted house stuff, there's also the lingering odor of smoke, as if something is burning. The home is captured on camera in long ominous slow pans that caress the cold exteriors and wooden paneling, inside the home there's a creepy basement where bad things seem to happen, just as Joe the Electrician, who encounters the supernatural forces for himself when he goes below to find the source of the smokey smell that plagues the basement. 

Convinced that the spirit of her departed son is present in the home Anne invites family friend May (Lisa Marie), a self-professed psychic, and her offbeat hippie husband Jacob (Larry Fessenden) to the home to perform a seance and establish contact. Right away May detects a sinister presence in the home and warns Anne not to pursue it, but Jacob performs an impromptu seance against her wishes, which invites a possession scenario with the always great Fessenden drooling and chewing up the scenery in a fun scene that really kicks the film into high gear with plenty of ghostly ghouls and gruesome gore, the gore gags are fantastic. During the finale the couples are besieged by not only demonic apparitions but a horde of angry towns people who would prefer that a certain town secret be kept and they are willing to murder for it one scene of a head being squeezed until it bursts stands out to me. 


The movie is an homage to Lucio Fulci's gruesome haunter The House by the Cemetery in many ways, the isolated setting, something lurking in the basement, even the name of the couple, the Sachetti's, named after frequent Fulci screenwriter Dardano Sachetti who write for Mario and Lamberto Bava among many others, a true icon of Italian cinema. There are other nods to haunted house cinema too, including Peter Medak's classic haunter The Changeling (1980),  paying homage to the scene of the rubber ball bouncing down the stairs, you can see the love for classic horror these guys have, loved the reference to Joe the Plumber from Lucio Fulci's The Beyond (1981). 

Aside from the cool homages that horror nerds will love we have some very cool special effects, the demonic presence that inhabits the house have a cool smoldering aesthetic, they can burn their victims, but are also comfortable just digging their burned-black thumbs into their eye-sockets or crushing their head into a bloody pulp. The gore is pretty dam wonderful, a hand thrust through the back of car seat through the chest, the aforementioned skull crusher, a fire poker through the eye-socket, just some goo violent supernatural fun, these spirits are out for vengeance, and the visceral nature of it reminded me of the spirits from John Carpenter's The Fog (1980), brutal stuff.


The writing is top notch, a good blend of subtle humor and tasteful homages, a moment of comic relief then straight into a terror-fueled nightmare the next, I enjoyed everything about it from start to finish. The cast is awesome, horror-icon Barbara Crampton look appropriately drained as the grief stricken mother, and Andrew Sensenig is strong as the husband who is trying to hold it together despite his own grief, plagued by horrific nightmares of his own. Lisa Marie and Fessenden are a welcome addition as the psychic hippies, too.

I loved the setting, having been born and raised in Upstate New York the settings around Palmyra looks familiar to me, as did the biting cold of winter, I love winter-set horror and watching this with the AC cranked up last night in the dark put me in the right frame of mind. 


Audio/Video: The Blu-ray from Dark Sky Films looks solid through and through, plenty of fine detail, some good depth and clarity, colors are a bit muted by design, and the seventies vibe looks and felt authentic in 1080p. As you might expect from a haunter we get some good use of the surrounds which adds a lot of suspense to the proceedings. 

Extras include an informative Audio Commentary with Director Ted Geoghehan and Producer Travis Stevens who speak about the evolution of the project, the nods to other movies, and making the movie in Upstate New York, and how certain effects were achieved. There's also a seven-minute behind-the-scene featurette, and a couple of trailers for the movie. 


Special Features: 

- Audio Commentary with Director TedGeoghehan and Producer Travis Stevens
- Behind-the-Scenes (7 Mins) HD 
- Trailer (2 Mins) HD 
- Teaser (2 Mins) HD 

Geoghegan hasn't set out to reinvent the haunted house movie so much as he is paying homage to seventies haunter cinema with a shot in the arm of adrenaline fueled gore at the end, and it completely worked for me, loaded with slow-build atmosphere and supernatural tension at every turn, one of the best of the year so far, this will be hard to top. 4/5


GRAVY (2014)

GRAVY (2014)
Label: Scream Factory 
Release Date: October 6th 2015 
Region Code: A
Duration: 90 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround, DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: James Roday
Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Jimmi Simpson, Lily Cole, Michael Weston, Molly Ephraim, Paul Rodriguez, Sarah Silverman, Sutton Foster

On Halloween night a trio of deranged costumed misfits enter Raoul's Mexican Cantina and weld the door's shut,forcing the staff to engage in a late night of party games and cannibalism. This dark comedy is a fun mash-up of horror and comedy, a very twisted and strange sense of humor. The deranged psychopaths are lead by Stef (Jimmie Simpson), with cohorts Anson (Michael Weston) and Mimi (Lily Cole), a strange trio of weirdos with a hunger for human flesh, and tonight the staff of Raoul's are what's on the menu, beginning with funnyman Paul Rodriguez as Chuy, the beloved owner of the cantina. 

The staff are forced to play party games like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and such, the losers are killed and eaten while the the others are forced to watch and endure the nightmare carnival of cannibalism. What makes it so fun is that everyone is so damn neurotic, from the staff to the deranged flesh-eaters, everyone is slightly off, some more than others.Jimmi Simpson is the wild-eyed leader, not an imposing figure but clever and witty, his punchlines are deadly, you can see why he's in charge, a charismatic guy with a keen sense of humor and a hunger for flesh, when he tastes the savory human flesh cration is is overcome with delight, fun stuff. I was honestly shocked when I found out that actor Michael Weston was not Charlie Day from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia! The two are so similar, nutty and neurotic, and opening scene with Anson at a convenience store opposite funny lady Sarah Silverman is a lot of fun, unfortunately Silverman is only here in a brief cameo, so don't expect to see her a bunch. Back to Weston, he is delightful in the role, a straight-up loon but somehow very likable. Lily Cole as the lunatic Mimi is fun, she's the most crazed of the three, thoroughly enjoying playing with her food before savoring their flesh. 

The cantina chef Yannick (Lothaire Bluteau) is chained to the kitchen and forced to prepare his coworkers one by one for the consumption of the deranges cannibals,who love his savory creations, beginning with poor Raoul (Rodriguez), who was loved by everyone. The cast is great all-around, a lot of familiar faces who I recognized but didn't know the names of, but we do have Gabourey Sidibe from American Horror Story: Coven appears as a smart-mouthed security guard who adds some flavor to the fun, then there's Bert (Ethan Sandler) who plays a dope in a blue leisure suit who has just been dumped by his girlfriend for another girl, who is a singer in Siouxie and the Banshees cover band. Everyone is spot in this blend of cannibal comedy and deranged party movie, but it is more in the camp of gory comedy than straight-up horror movie, there's plenty of blood and guts for the gorehounds, a surprising amount of it actually. 

Audio/Video: The Blu-ray disc looks solid from Scream Factory, presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) with a nice palette of vibrant Halloween appropriate colors and some atmospheric lighting, looking fantastic in HD with nice with some good depth and clarity, strong color saturation and a good amount of fine detail, the gore looks especially great! The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround comes through plenty strong with some serious oomph when called upon, crisp and clean through and through. 

Extras are limited to a cast and crew commentary track, two featurettes and a trailer for the movie. Given the comedic nature of the movie and the myriad of gore gags I am very surprised there's not a blooper real of blown takes or a few deleted scenes. The release includes a sleeve of reversible artwork with a slipcover featuring an illustration by Paul Shipper. 


Special Features:

- Audio Commentary With James Roday, Sutton Foster And Jimmi Simpson
- What Is Gravy? Featurette (6 Mins) HD
- EPK (6 Mins) HD
- Trailer (2 Mins) HD 


This Halloween season if you are looking to add something new to your usual classic line-up of Halloween favorites the cannibal-comedy Gravy (2014) should be at the top of your list, I had a lot of fun with this one, the comedy is awesome and the gore is gruesome, this is a very highly recommend, I would dare say this is a new horror-comedy classic. 4/5 


THE STRANGER (2014)

THE STRANGER (2014)

Label: Scream Factory I IFC Midnight 
Release Date: October 6th, 2015 
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 92 Minutes
Audio: Englsih DTS-HD MA 5.1, English DTS-HD MA 2.0  with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1) 
Director: Guillermo Amo
Cast: Aaron Burns, Alessandra Guerzoni, Ariel Levy, Cristóbal Tapia Montt, Lorenza Izzo, Luis Gnecco, Nicolás Durán


A mysterious stranger named Martin (Cristóbal Tapia-Montt), arrives in a small Canadian town in search of his estranged wife Ana (Lorenza Izzo). The couple suffer from a very rare blood disease which makes them crave human blood, through a series of flashback we are shown that for years the couple fed off the blood of animals, only one of them strayed from the path and turned again to the blood of humans, a murderous act which drives a wedge between them and in the aftermath they are driven from the home. 

It seems that Martin has been tracking his wife Ana for some time at the top of the movie, leading him to the small Canadian village in hope of murdering her and killing himself to stop the spread of their cursed blood disease. While the disease is never named it is clearly understand it is some form of vampirism. Martin discovers that Ana passed away some year earlier, and with that knowledge he prepares himself for suicide, but before he can do it Martin is attacked by three small town thugs, lead by Caleb (Ariel Levy), the murderous son of the corrupt Lieutenant De Luca (Luis Gnecco), a Salton officer with a chip on his shoulder. 

Martin is left for dead by the thugs, which is just fine by him, but he is rescued by a young man named Peter (Nicolás Durán) who saves his life despite being warned not to under threat of death. The incident begins a chain-reaction of drained bodies in the small town as revenge is sought against Caleb, played with loads of seething venom by Levy, which spurs his father to take matters into his own hands, creating a small body count of his own. Cristóbal Tapia-Montt turns in a smoldering performance, down played but very intense, everyone seems to leave the scenery chewing for actor Luis Gnecco as the corrupt cop, he takes it a bit too far too often, not sure if it's the weakest performance or just the loudest, but it's probably both. 

The tone of this one is very dark and brooding, the characters are low key - except for Gnecco - and there's a lot of satisfying bloody violence, this has some great brutal moments. The movie seems to struggle against what is is, a low-key vampire film, attempting to switch up the lore a bit with its own mythologies, adding a curative element to the blood of the cursed, a cure that can turn into an epidemic if certain religious ceremonies are not performed, I liked the lore of i, you see why Martin was on a murder/suicide trip, it makes sense given what the disease could unleash. 

Audio/Video: The Stranger arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory and IFC Midnight in the widescreen scope aspect ratio, looking solid with nice depth and clarity, black levels are strong which is appreciated as the events mostly unfold during the dark hours. Viewers have the option of an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround or English DTS-HD MA 2.0  Stereo with Optional English Subtitles, the surround offers plenty of discreet use of the surrounds, dialogue is crisp and the score from Manuel Riveiro sound good. 

Special features include the short film 'The Fourth Horseman'  which is an abbreviated version of the longer feature, plus a 'Welcome to Chilewood' featurette starring the cast and crew of the film discussing their wish to make Chile and movie making empire. The only other extras a a couple of trailers for the movie and a few posters, behind-the-scenes and production images. There's also a reversible sleeve of artwork which really only differs in the fonts and cropping of the image, plus a slipcase. 

Special Features
- Short Film, The Fourth Horseman (11 Mins) HD
- Welcome To Chilewood Featurette With The Filmmakers (6 Mins) HD
- Theatrical Trailer (U.S.) (2 Mins) HD
- Theatrical Trailer (Chile) (2 Mins) HD
- Still Gallery (3 Mins) 


The Stranger (2014) is definitely not a feel good movie, there's no snark or irony, this is a straight-up dark and brooding horror film, one that does something a little bit different, and I can appreciate that even if I didn't love it, I enjoyed it. In terms of tone I was reminded of Let The Right One (2008) and Near Dark (1987), it take a bit to get up to speed but if you stay with it this is pretty good watch, not great, but damn decent and worth a rental. 3/5 

Monday, September 28, 2015

A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT (2013)

A PLAGUE SO PLEASANT (2013) 

Label: Wild Eye Releasing

Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 80 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo 
Video: Anamorphc Widescreen 
Director: Benjamin Roberts
Cast: David Chandler, Max Moody, Eve Boehenke, Kaylee Bridge, George McDonald, Mandy Riley 

It is damn rare that I open up a bubble-wrap package and come face to face with  a zombie movie that I am honestly excited to tear into. I am not saying that they're all awful, just that the really good ones which do something different are few and far between. Wild Eye Releasing's release of A Plague So Pleasant sort of caught my attention on just the name alone, but even that stopped me from sitting on it for a week or so before I peeled off the shrink wrap and gave it a watch. With very low expectations I popped it into the player and was drawn in right from the start. It begins as a slightly art school black and white movie centered around a young man named Clay, his strangely persuasive roommate, and Clay's sister Mia. The roommate has a thing for Mia and somehow convinces Clay to put in a good word for him with her, but poor Mia is hung-up on her ex boyfriend... who just so happens to be a zombie. 

In this version of the world zombies are a certain reality, it s established that there was a short-lived zombie apocalypse which lasted all of twelve hours. In the aftermath zombies have become a protected species of sorts, allowed to roam free through the streets and cities or protected in large fenced-in reservations. It is now illegal to kill a zombie, they're more a nuisance than a threat to the living, causing traffic issues not unlike a herd of cows who have escaped the pasture and are blocking the road, only we have shambling Romero-styled zombies instead of heffers. 

We have some strange narration by way of Clay and his roommate, the movie has a sort of Richard Linklatter Slacker (1991) vibe about it at first, offbeat, lo-fi and spunky. Through some poor decision making the zombies are provoked and in an instant the black and white turns to vibrant color and the shambling zombies turn into the Dawn of the Dead remake styled runners out for blood and guts, and our protagonist Clay is the reason why. 


It might not be a classic in the making or even have any sort of cult-classic prospects but at least this slice of zombie cinema offers something a little different and marches to it's own drummer, which I sort of loved, even if I don't see myself re watching it anytime soon, I admired the originality and spunk of the filmmakers. 

A Plague So Pleasant (2013) might have some pacing issues, and some low-budget movie making constraints but it never did lose my attention from the beginning right up to the end, which for a contemporary zombie movie is actually pretty damn special. 2.5/5 

 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

DEADLY REVISIONS (2015)

DEADLY REVISIONS (2015)
Label: SGL Entertainment
Region Code: Region-FREE 
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 94 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: Gregory Blair
Cast: Bill Oberst Jr., Mikhail Blokh, Cindy Merrill, Dawna Lee Heising, Gregory Blair
In the psychological killer-thriller Deadly Revisions (2015) we have noted indie actor actor Bill Oberst Jr. in the role of horror movie writer/director Grafton Torn who one day wakes up from a six month coma in the hospital, with little memory of what happened or how he got ended up there. His long time movie-making friend Dieter McMannus (Mikhail Blokh) does what he can to aid his friend in regaining his lost memories, beginning with setting him up at a tranquil rural cottage in the woods far away from Hollywood. As Grafton settles into his new digs slowly but surely the lost memories start to come back with the aid of an attractive hypnotherapist Ally Morris (Cindy Merrill) who lays Grafton on the couch for some sleepy-time therapy, the sessions are working but the horrific vision and nightmares they unleash might just prove to be Grafton's undoing. 

This one certainly has the feel of a Stephen King novel, we have a horror movie writer set-up in a secluded home in the woods who begins to crack under psychological duress, this definitely had me thinking of Stephen King's 'Secret Room'. Even the name 'Grafton Thorn' sounds like a name right out of a Stephen King book. Bill Oberst Jr. is quite good in the role of Grafton, embracing the madness of it with loads of conviction, the actor is a staple of low budget horror movies and more often than not turns in performances far beyond what the you might expect from cash-strapped horror production. Oberst zeros in on the heart of the disturbed writer who is haunted by not only his own creations come to life, but with the possibility that he might have murdered his wife Kat (Lise Hart), whom is not exactly painted in the most positive light by the movie, she plays a great bitch, but the role also offers her the opportunity to play a more sympathetic and empathetic character at times. 

We get some nice moments of unreality as Grafton gradually unravels into a nightmare world with a building body count and plenty of good moments of suspense and tension. I warn you though, come into this one expecting a low-budget production without the benefit of all the Hollywood bells and whistles you might enjoy and the cinema, it's a small movie and can be rough around the edges, but it does offer some good psychological twists and turns. 

Aside from some strong Stephen King influences, the disturbed writer holed-up in a small cabin in the woods, writer/director Gregor Blair also dips his toe into Sidney Lumet's gem of a thriller, the Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine, classic Deathtrap (1982), which I adored. For general horror audiences this might be a bit rough around the edges but I love the meat of the story and how it plays out.  Bill Oberst Jr. turns in a very solid performance in a role with some serious meat to it as his character struggles to maintain his grip on sanity as murderous unreality threatens to sweep him away. 2.5/5

Friday, September 25, 2015

THE WOODS (2006)

THE WOODS (2006) 
Label: Olive Films 
Region Code: A
Rated: R
Duratione: 91 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround 
Video: 1080p HD Widesreen (2.35:1)
Director: Lucky Mckee
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Patricia Clarkson, Emma Campbell, Agnes Bruckner, Lauren Birkell

Set in 1965 Lucky McKee's The Woods follows a troubled pyromaniac young woman named Heather Fasulo (Agnes Bruckner) who is sent away to an all-girl school, the Falburn Academy, which is nestled away in deep in the woods of New England. She's sent their by her cold-fish mother Alice (Emma Campbell) and put-upon father Joe (Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead) who are at their rope's end with her teenage rebellion, it seems that the boarding school was the idea of her mother, who is embarrassed by her rebellious teen daughter's behavior. 

She is greeted by the dean of the school, Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson, Six Feet Under) who take an unsettling interest in the young woman right away, going so far as to offer a scholarship to the cash-poor family, she's always talking about how "special" and "different" Heather is. As she settles into life at the school Heather befriends misfit Marcy Turner (Lauren Birkell) and makes an instant enemy of school bully Samantha Wise (Rachel Nichols), all these ladies are quite adorable in their schoolgirl uniforms. One night Heather is told of the local urban legend about the academy, that one hundred years ago three young girls emerged from the woods, they turned out to be witches who killed the teachers and disappeared again into the woods, where they are said to inhabit to this day, and thus we have the mythology behind this witchy supernatural entry. 

Heather is plagued by nightmares which feed into the strange disappearance of some of the student at the academy, which the staff attribute to the teens having run away from school, but strange things are certainly happening at the school, leading Heather to suspect that the school might be lead by coven of witches, an idea which becomes more and more clear as the movie moves forward, Heather is put through a series of tests which seem designed to trigger a latent supernatural power within her, which the witchy women of the academy are hoping to harness to their own benefit somehow, but they should have had the foresight to see that bringing a pyromaniac into the fold in a woodland area might not work out so well in their favor. 

The woods (2006) was the follow-up to McKee's break through debut May (2002), this was a studio film with a decent budget that for some ungodly reason was shelved for far too-long and tinkered with by the studio before being dumped onto DVD a few years later, but the movie is still quite a treat. McKee does a great job with the higher-budget afforded the film loading it with creepy visuals and loads of atmosphere. the woods which surround the school are dark and foreboding, the trees have a life of their own and indeed carry out the wishes of the witches who want Heather, there's some digital effects work by way of vibes that threaten to snatch away a few of our characters, and for 2006 they don't seem too awful either. 

The Woods gets a lot of comparison's to the Dario Argento classic Suspiria (1977), and not without good reason either, there are some familiar notes that definitely recall Argento's masterwork. For starters we have an all-girl boarding school, a few sinister teachers, witchy supernatural elements and a creepy score with strong whispering vocal elements, but that's about it. I wouldn't say that the story is original but it is pretty damn good, a bit of a slow burn but well paced and eerie through and through, helped immensely by the slow-moving camera of cinematographer John R. Leonetti with loads of skewed camera angles, ratcheting up the tension at every turn without resorting to fast-cutting action.  

Heather Agnes Bruckner (Blood and Chocolate) is damn good in the role of the rebellious 60's teen through witch we experience the movie, craving her cold mother's love and spurring the staff at the academy, drawn to other social misfits at the school, and I love the feud between her and the blond bitch played by Rachel Nichols, a character who could be one-note but actually goes a little deeper here, I enjoyed the writing and the performances. Patricia Clarkson as the Dean of students is brilliant as always, very underplayed but with a certain witchy menace about her, likewise we have the twitchy Ms. Mackinaw (Marcia Bennet, The Woman) and the stern Ms. Leland (Catherine Colvey) as teachers at the school, both quite good, and damn scary. Bruce Campbell appears in a serious supporting role as Heather's father, turning in a solid performance, there's a scene of him with Clarkson in the hospital which is pretty effective as the head witch poisons him with a black liquid seeping from her torn open palm, some good disgusting stuff.The movie doesn't score much in the gore department but there's some, a tiny bit of axe killing during a flashback scene but what the film does well is suck you into the story with the strong performances and atmospheric storytelling, set in a creepy woodland setting, which gives the sixties-set movie a Gothic charm.. 

Audio/Video: Praise be to Olive Films for bringing us Lucky McKee's THE WOODS in 1080p at long last! The movie is presented in the original scope aspect ratio, the image is crisp and nicely detailed, the autumnal colors look great. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Sound audio presentation is also crisp and strong, the surrounds get some nice use with discreet effects and the haunting John Frizzell score coming through the surrounds, and that 60's soundtrack of Lesley Gore songs is brilliant. Unfortunately this is a bare bones disc, I had been hoping that the long-lost Lucky McKee commentary that Sony seemed to have trashed prior to the original DVD release might re surface, but this is sadly not the case. 

The Woods is a good watch, a witchy period movie loaded with atmosphere and mystery, it won't appeal to everyone but if you love a supernatural slow-burn this is a high recommend. Hoping we see a Blu-ray of McKee's May coming soon, that one is long overdue. 3/5