Thursday, March 31, 2016

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986) (Blu-ray Review)

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986) 

Label: Scream Factory

Release Date: April 19th 2016 
Region Code: A
Duration: 101 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1, Stereo 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Bill Johnson, Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, Dennis Hopper, Jim Siedow, Ken Evert, Lou Perryman, Chris Douridas

A decade after the original terror-classic hit the cinema director Tobe Hooper resurrected the Sawyer cannibal-clan with an offbeat sequel infused with pitch black humor and outrageous gore gags, and it didn't land well with audiences at the time. Catching up with the Sawyer clan some thirteen years after the events of the first movie we find the Texans have traded in the nightmare farmhouse for a spacious labyrinthine underground maze located beneath an abandoned amusement park. They've also gone from hacking up hippies to eviscerating '80s yuppies. Madman patriarch Drayton Sawyer is now touring Texas in a lunch truck winning chili competitions along the way. Drayton's secret to winning is simple, "don't skimp on the meat. I've got a real good eye for prime meat.".


The movie begins with a pair of douche-nozzle yuppies driving to Dallas for a wild weekend of debauchery when a pickup truck pulls out in front of them on a stretch of bridge, they're stunned when Leatherface wielding a chainsaw appears in the bed of the truck and attacks the car with his trusty chainsaw while also puppeteering a desiccated corpse, presumably that of the Hitchhiker from the first movie. We're only a few minutes in and the movie is off to a phenomenal start, setting the tone and pace with black humor and terrific gore gags with the driver losing half his head to the blade of the chainsaw. 

As it turns out the yuppies were live on-air with a local radio DJ named Stretch (Caroline Williams) during the entire scream filled encounter with the Sawyers and the horrifying incident was caught on audio tape. A former Texas Ranger named Lefty (Dennis Hopper, Mad Dog Morgan) arrives on scene to investigate the bizarre accident/deaths. You see, Lefty is the uncle of Sally and Franklin from the original movie and he won't stop until he has avenged their deaths, he's been on the trail of the Sawyers for a decade. When the audio recording comes to his attention he doesn't so much team-up with Stretch as use her as live bait to attract the attention of the sadistic cannibals, which he does by having her replay the broadcast live on air on a loop. Fearing the tape will lead to their discovery Leatherface and his 'Nam obsessed brother Chop Top (Bill Moseley, The Devil's Rejects) arrive at the radio station and terrorize the DJ who's clearly in over her head with this mess. 

Leatherface's dead-skin mask this time around is my favorite incarnation of the chainsaw wielding maniac, it looks great with the actors mouth salivating wildly beneath it, flicking his tongue along his crooked toothed mouth. Mosely as Chop Top is one of my favorite characters of any horror movie, a bizarre and skittish nut job who picks away at his mangled scalp with bent wire coat hanger, eating the tasty bits of flesh he can scratch away. He's one of the most quotable characters in any horror film, even his iconic portrayal of Otis from The Devil's Rejects is only a close second, this is definitely his signature performance in my book. Also, you cannot watch this movie and not appreciate the demented performance of Jim Siedow as Drayton Sawyer, the cantankerous and eccentric patriarch of the Sawyer family, his dialogue and delivery are creepily side-splitting, he perfectly embodies the tone and spirit of the demented production, he's the dark heart of the movie.

At the radio station Leatherface and Chop Top terrorize Stretch, this is the stuff of nightmares, the way the scene is eerily lit with deep shadows takes it to the next level. When her producer L.G. (Lou Perryman) returns to the station from a coffee-run he gets a hammer to the skull after he finds Chop Top raiding the vinyl archives of the station. Somehow Stretch is able to use her charm to coerce the seemingly love-struck Leatherface into letting her live, Chop Top believes she's dead and the gruesome duo leave with L.G.'s corpse in their pickup. Lefty arrives a short time later and he and Stretch follow them to their underground lair beneath a condemned amusement park, where they find a nightmare carnival of macabre weirdness buried in the tunnels below. 


Dennis Hopper was fresh off David Lynch's Blue Velvet when he came onto this one and his character is nearly as as unhinged as Frank, though it is possible that during this period of drugs and excess in the '80s that the coked-up Hopper was just a nut. He would next go on to appear in River's Edge, and these three movie are probably my favorite of his. Obsessed with revenging the death of his nephew Lefty enters the underground lair with an armament of chainsaws , so you had best prepare yourself for the glory of dueling chainsaws! Hats off to the production designers for the surreal atmosphere and lighting of the underground sets, it definitely creates a surreal and nightmarish tone which is appropriate for this demented sequel, a movie that only Tobe Hopper and Cannon Films could have made together. 

The film has received criticism for straying a bit  far from the original in terms of tone and pitch, but I have always loved this damned movie to death. It's straight-up demented from start to finish, my favorite sequence being the assault on the radio station, with Chop Top and Leatherface tormenting poor Stretch. You wanna see strange, how about Leatherface mock-fucking her with his chainsaw spraying a slurry of shaved ice and Big Red soda over her face, a surreal nightmare of sexual innuendo. Caroline Williams (Contracted) screams her head off throughout, in my opinion this is one of the most memorable scream queen performances of them all, hear piercing screams always shred my nerves. Another nice touch is the reenactment the infamous dinner scene from the first movie, a nightmare scenario that comes off even creepier than the original, that grotesque makeup f/x work on Grandpa Sawyer is a thing of disgusting beauty. 

While the original is a notoriously bloodless shocker the sequel is throws the gore right in your face, dripping with grue thanks to the talents of gore f/x genius Tom Savini (The Burning) and his crew, which included Bart Mixon (Killer Klowns from Outer Space), John Carl Buechler (From Beyond), Gabe Bartalos (The Thing), Gino Crognale (The Hidden) and John Vulich (TerrorVision). When L.G. is brought back to the Sawyer kitchen they flay the skin from his legs and chest with an electric carving knife before peeling off his face and placing the dead-skin mask onto the face of an increasingly hysterical Stretch. It's an over-the-top sequel that just layers on the excess and over-acting and I love it for it.


Audio/Video: Scream Factory have gone above and beyond for this gore-drizzled sequel with not one, but two HD presentations of the movie. We have the original HD master found on the MGM Blu-ray which was supervised by cinematographer Richard Kooris, plus a brand new 2K scan of the interpositive film elements. The new transfer is nothing short of superb, the candy colored colors are vibrant with excellent contrast and deep blacks with very nice shadow detail, which is improved over the original HD master. There's also a fine layer of film grain with some very nice clarity and depth to the image, this is a wonderful new HD transfer. 


Audio chores are handled by a very capable English DTS-HD MA 5.1 option, there's also a more authentic stereo track for the audio purists. The surround mix sounds great with some nice atmospheric use of the surrounds to great affect. Both audio tracks sports excellent fidelity with a clean, crisp presentation that has some nice depth to it, plus the sweet '80s soundtrack featuring The Cramps, Timbuk 3 and The Lords of the New Church, among others, comes through clean and strong. Optional English subtitles are provided. 

Onto the extras on disc one we have a great blend of new and old stuff, this release is packed to the hilt with goodies. Those familiar with the 'Gruesome Edition' from MGM will recognize the selection of deleted scenes, image galleries, trailers and TV spots ported over for the new edition, plus both of the audio commentaries from the MGM Blu-ray with actors Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams and special effects makeup creator Tom Savini moderated by Michael Felsher, and a second with director Tobe Hooper moderated by David Gregory of Severin Films. 

Now onto the tasty new stuff on disc one, we have a new audio commentary to go along with the new trasnfer from director of photography Richard Kooris, production designer Cary White, script supervisor Laura Kooris and property master Michael Sullivan. The track is a good listen, a bit technical and not on par with the original commentaries in my opinion, but these commentaries do provide a wealth of information about the making of the movie. There's also thirty-minutes of Extended Outtakes from the 'It Runs in the Family' doc featuring never before seen interview footage with the late screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson and actor Lou Perryman. The actual 'It Runs in the Family' disc can be found on disc two. There is also a 44-minute Behind-the-Scenes Footage Compilation from Tom Savini’s personal video archives, we get to see some candid footage of the special effects being performed for film.  


Onto disc two of the set we have more new stuff and an old favorite, the old comes by way of the aforementioned 'It Runs in the Family' doc produced by Michael felsher and red shirt Pictures, the six part feature-length documentary featuring interviews with screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson, actors Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, Bill Johnson, Lou Perryman, and special makeup effects artist Tom Savini, which is still a great watch, this is the definitive making-of doc for the movie. The new stuff begins with the House of Pain doc, a 43-minute collection of interviews with make-up effects artists Bart Mixon, John Carl Buechler, Gabe Bartalos, Gino Crognale and John Vulich, and for horror fans these behind-the-scenes peeks at the making of gore classics are always a blast, tales of creating the iconic gore gags, who worked on what, behind-the-scenes tom foolery and problems bringing these effects to film, with clips from the movie, behind-the-scenes images and video footage. 

Yuppie Meat is an 18-minute interview with actors Chris Douridas and Barry Kinyon who played the yuppies from the bridge massacre scene at the start of the film, they speak about how they came to appear in the movie and life post TCM2. I didn't realize that Douridas who played Gunner, the yuppie with the novelty glasses, was the host of KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic, a L.A. radio show I first heard back in '93 when Geffen records sent out a promotional cassette of Beck's performance on the show to promote the album 'Mellow Gold', which has nothing to do with the movie, but I thought that was neat. If you're a Beck fan you can stream that early performance which features a few choice rarities right here: http://www.kcrw.com/music/shows/morning-becomes-eclectic/beck-5


Up next is Cutting Moments, a 17-minute interview with editor Alain Jakubowicz who tells of how he sort of saved Tobe Hooper's Invaders from Mars in the editing room. The director worked on quite a few Canon Films during their '80s heyday, including work on Hooper's TCM2. 


Behind the Mask is an 14-minute interview with stunt man and Leatherface performer Bob Elmore who doubled for Leatherface actor Bill Johnson, appearing in many of the memorable scenes. He speaks about how Johnson couldn't lift the heavy chainsaw used in the movie and how he had to take on a larger role in the movie, admitting he is not an actor, and that Hooper yelled at him a lot to get the performances out of him.  

The last of the new extras is a new episode of Horror's Hallowed Ground with host Sean Clark, revisiting many of the locations used in the movie, most of which have been torn down and renovated beyond recognition. Honestly this was somewhat of a let down, but Clark is a witty guy and I love these location pilgrimages he does. Obviously Austin has gone through a lot of changes in the past thirty years, and it doesn't make for the best location visits but Clark and the crew do their do diligence, even heading out to Bastrop, Texas to the scene of the bridge scene and the long-gone site of the Texas Battle Land amusement park.


Separate from the disc extras we have a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring the very cool illustration fro Joel Robinson and the original one-sheet movie poster which was a send up of The Breakfast Club. Robinson's new artwork is also featured on cardboard slipcover for the standard blu keep case. 


Disc 1: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part Two (Brand New HD Transfer)

- NEW 2016 2K HD scan of the inter-positive film element
- NEW Audio Commentary with director of photography Richard Kooris, production designer Cary White, script supervisor Laura Kooris and property master Michael Sullivan
- Audio Commentary with director Tobe Hooper moderated by David Gregory of Severin Films 
- Audio Commentary with actors Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams and special effects makeup creator Tom Savini moderated by Michael Felsher 
- NEW Extended Outtakes from It Runs in the Family featuring L.M. Kit Carson and Lou Perryman (30 Mins)
- NEW Behind-the-Scenes Footage Compilation from Tom Savini’s archives (44 Mins)
- Alternate Opening Credit Sequence (2 Mins) 
- Deleted Scenes (11 Mins) 
- Still Galleries – posters and lobby cards, behind-the-scenes photos, stills and collector’s gallery (60 Images) HD 
- Theatrical Trailers (2 Mins) HD 
- TV Spots (3 Mins) HD 

Disc 2: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part Two (Original HD Transfer)

- MGM’s original HD Master with color correction supervision by director of photography Richard Kooris
- NEW House of Pain – a interview with make-up effects artists Bart Mixon, John Carl Buechler, Gabe Bartalos, Gino Crognale and John Vulich (43 Mins) HD 
- NEW Yuppie Meat – a interview with actors Chris Douridas and Barry Kinyon (19 Mins) HD
- NEW Cutting Moments – a interview with editor Alain Jakubowicz (17 Mins) HD 
- NEW Behind the Mask – a interview with stunt man and Leatherface performer Bob Elmore (14 Mins) HD
- NEW HORROR’S HALLOWED GROUNDS – revisiting the locations of the film – hosted by Sean Clark plus a special guest (25 Mins) HD 
- It Runs in the Family – a six part feature-length documentary featuring interviews with screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson, actors Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, Bill Johnson, Lou Perryman, special makeup effects artist Tom Savini and more (84 Mins) HD 

I love TCM2, it is a gruesome and black veined terror-comedy, a full-on demented slice of weirdness and my favorite entry in the entire TCM series. It's hard to deny the horror-genius of this movie which was once panned across the board, I am pleased to see that the public opinion on this one has turned towards the positive these past few years, this is a straight-up classic. The new Blu-ray from Scream Factory is one of my favorite releases of the year so far, this is a must-own edition with a sweet new 2K HD scan and loads of awesome extras, well worth the upgrade. 4/5 


Sunday, March 27, 2016

THE STUFF (1985) (Blu-ray Review)

THE STUFF (1985) 
Label: Arrow Video 
Release Date: April 19th 2016 
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 87 Minutes 
Audio: Original English PCM 1.0 Mono with Optional English SDH Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Larry Cohen
Cast: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Danny Aiello, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom

When a miner stumbles upon sweet gooey white substance bubbling-up from the Earth what else can he do but slap a pretty sticker on it and market the creamy treat for mass consumption? Now calling it The Stuff the sweet treat fast becomes America's newest taste-sensation surpassing even ice cream as the premiere treat. Alarmed frozen-treat moguls band together to employ industrial saboteur David "Mo" Ruthaford (Michael Moriarty, Q the Winged Serpent) to discover just what the secret ingredient is so they can steal it for themselves and make the world safe for the ice cream producers of the world.
Yup, it's just as silly as it sounds but The Stuff is a smartly written and deftly executed satire by writer/director Larry Cohen who really sparked on a great concept with this one. Throughout you can find send-ups of classic science fiction films like The Blob (1958) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) mixed with some tasty bits of humor. Actor Michael Moriarty is a bit an eccentric person and never more so than when he teamed-up with filmmaker Larry Cohen, always over-the-top but never less than pitch-perfect in my opinion. Mo's quest for answers begin with a corrupt former employee named Mr. Vickers (Danny Aiello, Jacob's Ladder) of the FDA who first approved the Stuff for consumption. The strange encounter with Vickers and his menacing doberman pincer tip Mo off to the fact that something strange is happening behind the scenes. Turns out the Stuff is some sort of body-snatching parasite that transforms ordinary treat-seeking people into Stuff craving zombie drones.

The cast is great with Moriarty leading the charge with assist from an attractive ad exec (Andrea Marcovicci) and a trio of strange cameos from Aiello, Garret Morris (SNL) as an embittered confectioner and Paul Sorvino (Goodfelleas) as a right-wing militia nut. There's also a young kid named Jason (Scott Bloom) who early on realizes that the Stuff is dangerous and discovers that he must fend off his family who have become drones to the creepy confection. The scenes of his family trying to force the Stuff into his mouth are the stuff of surreal nightmares. The father (Robert Frank Telfin) for some reason particularly made my skin crawl, there's just something so uneasy about him. As with Q the Winged Serpent (1982) it is Michael Moriarty and his odd delivery that own the film (alongside the great effects), a wonderful mix of silliness, satire and some actual scares.

The Stuff (1985) is easily my favorite Larry Cohen entry and a quite a fun send-up of consumerism with some great special effects that uses about everything from shaving cream, ice cream and fire retardant foam to bring the Stuff to life onscreen, including some vintage stop-motion animation from the late David Allen of Puppet Master fame. Some of it might be a bit dated after 25-years but The Stuff holds up very nicely -  a classic 80's b-movie from New World Pictures and the demented mind of b-movie genius Larry Cohen.

Audio/Video: The HD transfer from Arrow Video is quite pleasing all round, framed in the original widescreen aspect ratio (1.85:1) with a natural  layer of fine film grain and with it some additional fine detail and improved sharpness. Colors are accurate and nicely saturated and there's a surprising amount of depth to the image. The English LPCM Mono 1.0 audio (with optional English subs) sounds great, with dialogue, score and sound effects coming through clean, free of distortion and is well-balanced.
Unfortunately we do not get the commentary track from director Larry Cohen from the now out-of-print Anchor Bay release (and it's not on the Image DVD either) so don't be in a hurry to trade that one in just yet. What we do get is a nearly hour long making-of doc featuring interviews with Larry Cohen, producer Paul Kurta, actress Andrea Marcovicci, mechanical makeup effects person  Steve Neill and Kim Newman, and it is a fantastic watch, if you love Larry Cohen or movie this is a treat. We also have  a trailer commentary sourced from the Trailers from Hell site with director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III) espousing his love for the film.

The last of the disc extras is the original trailer and a 24-page booklet  with new writing on the gooey movie by Joel Harley, illustrated with original stills and promotional materials. There is also a sleeve of reversible artwork with original and new artwork by artist Gary Pullin. This is a  pretty great 1080p upgrade for one of my all-time favorite Larry Cohen features, the audio-visual boost is worth the upgrade alone and the hour-long doc is The stuff on top. Previously issued by Arrow as a UK exclusive the disc is now region free, which is great news for fans of the film who may not be region-free themselves.

Special Features:
- Can’t Get Enough of The Stuff: Making Larry Cohen’s Classic Creature Feature Documentary (52 Mins)
- Introduction and Trailer Commentary by The Stuff fan Darren Bousman (2 Mins)
- Original Trailer (2 Mins)
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Joel Harley, illustrated with original stills and promotional materials

The Stuff (1983) is a great piece of satire with the gooey effects of The Blob (1958) and the sweet paranoia of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) mixed in with Larry Cohen's unique commentary on '80s consumerism and corporate culture in America. A very high recommend, I just can't get enough of Arrow Video Blu-ray of The Stuff! 4/5

#HORROR (2015) (Blu-ray Review)

#HORROR (2015)

Label: Scream Factory I IFC Midnight
Release Date: April 5th 2016
Region Code: A
Duration: 98 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1)
Director:Tara Subkoff
Cast: Chloë Sevigny, Emma Adler, Haley Murphy, Lydia Hearst, Annabelle Dexter-Jones,Balthazar Getty, Blue Lindeberg, Bridget McGarry, Mina Sundwall, Natasha Lyonne, Sadie Seelert, Stella Schnabel, Taryn Manning, Timothy Hutton

Synopsis: You've got followers… cyberbullying goes offline. #Horror follows a group of pre-teen girls living in a suburban world of money and privilege. But when their obsession with a disturbing online game goes too far, virtual terror becomes all too real. Chloë Sevigny (American Horror Story, American Psycho) leads an ensemble cast that includes Timothy Hutton (American Crime, The Dark Half) and Orange Is The New Black's Natasha Lyonne and Taryn Manning. This chiller, inspired by a shocking true story, is written and directed by actress/designer Tara Subkoff (The Cell, The Last Days Of Disco).

#Horror seems to be trying to tackle the very real issue of cyber bullying among the pre-teen crowd through the use of social media framed within the context of a slasher movie. We have a group of six awful adolescent girls who gather inside the pimped out glass mansion home of one of their own, they play dress-up, adorn themselves with costume jewelry, drink straight Vodka and hurl insults at one another from start to finish. All the while they snap pics on their iPhones of each other and post them on some strange mean-spirited social media site, tagging the images with hurtful things like #fatuglybitches. At first these are played off as innocuous cattiness among friends, but before long the insults begin to cut deep and young girls start crying and then dying, each of the bland murders are posted and live streamed to the same social media site garnering the much coveted likes and shares. 

I found the whole thing a bit ugly and confusing mess of a movie, the screen is lit up with annoying emoji and #tags, and the young girls are the worst sort of over privileged snots you can imagine, and hope your kids never turn into to. About the only character building is when the girls share parenting and period horror stories with each other for about a minute, and when they start dying you cannot help but sort of cheer the unidentified killer on, the world is a truly better place without them. 

And what of these young girls parents, what is their role in all this, you may be wondering. We have Chloe Sevigny and Timothy Hutton slumming it as parents of separate children, but with some sexual link between the two, and both are as annoying as their offspring. They play it over-the-top, chewing up the scenery in a fun sort of way, which I must admit I did not loathe. 


The actresses do maybe a bit too good of a job portraying bitchy pre-teen, they're full of sarcasm and hurtful insults for each other, though I cannot fault their performances, just the dire script and narrative stricture of the movie which is a hot seizure inducing mess of poor editing. Along the way we are fed details about the former owner of the glass mansion, a nutty artisan who murdered a house full of party guests back in the '60s, but whom has since disappeared, which would seem to inform the slasher element of the movie, but don't get your hopes up, by the time you figure out what the heck is happening and who the killer is you will have long since stopped carrying. On the other hand my fifteen year old daughter who enjoys horror told me it was meant for teens, not old guys, haha. 2/5

THE HALLOW (2015) (Blu-ray Review)

THE HALLOW (2015)

Label: Scream Factory I IFC Midnight

release Date: April 5th 2016 
Region Code: A
Duration: 97 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1, DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Corin Hardy
Cast: Michael Smiley, Stuart Graham, Bojana Novakovic, Gary Lydon, Joseph Mawle, Michael McElhatton

Adam (Joseph Mawle, Game of Thrones) is a London-based conservationist, who along with his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic, Drag Me To Hell) and infant son Finn, travel to a remote village in Ireland where Adam has been assigned to survey the area before the deeply wooded area is opened up to logging. The decision to open up the area to the logging industry has upset the ocals in the area, particularly a neighbor named Colm (Michael McElhatton), who warns Adam to avoid venturing into the woods with his infant son, warning that his own daughter Clara disappeared year earlier after having wandered into the woods alone. The locals believe malevolent  woodland spirits they call The Hallow live in the woods and that Adam's excursion into the lush forests will disturb them, which is exactly what happens.

Adam being from the city doesn't pay much heed to speak of evil woodland spirits, and when a window in his son's room is broken out one night he believes it is just an angry Colm trying to scare him away, but as the story continues it becomes much harder to turn a blind eye to the demonic creatures who seem to be out to steal away his infant son from him and his wife.  

The movie comes to us from first time director Corin Hardy and it is quite a debut, a dark fairytale along the lines of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth or Don't Be afraid of the Dark, the movie features a gorgeous Irish wooded backdrop, some palpable atmosphere and some very cool creatures which are damn creepy. All good stuff, but the movie does start off with a bit of a slow build, taking nearly forty minutes before it gets a proper head of steam going, and during that phase the woodland spirits are only hinted, but once they do make themselves known things get underway with some proper scares, though the movie  not very terrifying, instead offering some good suspense filled tension and drama. 

Where the movie excels is the Irish folklore angle of the story, far too often we as horror fans are inundated with sun-shy blood drinkers and the hungry undead, woodland spirits are found far and few between and I think it makes a ripe subject. Hardin does a good job of bringing some Irish folk horror to the small screen, and is largely successful. Adding a scientific element to the story along the way, when Adam discovers a strange black slime that can infect a person and transform them, which plays out during the final third of the movie, leaving our young parents not just under attack from woodland spirits but also trying to evade the malicious black slime which seems to a mind of its own, which was a  nice touch, this part of the story brought o mind the unsung indie horror Splinter from 2008, which is worth seeking out f you have not come across it on your own. 

Both Mawle and Novakovic do good work as parents desperately trying to protect their infant son from the demonic horde of woodland creatures with an appropriate amount of concern and dread, though Mawle as Adam does take a bit of while o come around to the idea that there's more going on than just an angry neighbor out to give them a fright, but I am not sure woodland spirits would be the first thing that would come to my mind either, but even just thinking an angry neighbor was causing a fuss would have scared me off early on.

While the scares are a bit thin the movie does not want for suspense and tension, plus those creature make-up f/x are fantastic, Hardin largely forgoes digital in favor of old school performers in rubber suits with some digital enhancement, and it totally worked for me, this is creepy stuff, and there's just not enough folk horror out there these days, so this is a welcome addition. 

Audio/Video: The Hollow arrives on Blu-ray from IFC Midnight and Scream Factory presented in the scope 2.35 aspect ratio looking nice and sharp in HD. The movie has a lot of dark scenes so that the shadow detail is so nice was much appreciated. The English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 was a nice treat, plenty of use of the surrounds to put across the creepy creature sounds and atmospheric score, optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided. 

Onto the extras we have an informative audio commentary from Director Corin Hardy who covers a lot of ground about the making of the creature feature, plus a nearly hour long making of doc, and seven smaller 2-3 minute behind-the-scenes featurettes covering the story, influences, F/X and galleries of sketch drawings and storyboards for the movie, which seem to be smaller bite-size chunks straight from the making-of doc. Aside from a  theatrical trailer for the movie we also get a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring the cool original poster artwork and a slipcover for the standard issue blue keep case

Special Features

- Audio Commentary With Director Corin Hardy
- Surviving The Fairytale: The Making Of The Hallow (51 Mins) HD 
- Behind-The-Scenes: The Story (3 Mins) HD 
- Behind-The-Scenes: Influence (2 Mins) HD 
- Behind-The-Scenes: Practical F/X (2 Mins) HD 
- Director's Storyboards Gallery (2 Mins) HD 
- Director's Sketchbook Gallery (3 Mins) HD 
- The Book Of Invasions – Original Illustrations Gallery (3 Mins) HD 
- Creature Concepts Gallery (1 Mins) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins) HD 
- Reversible Sleeve of Artwork 

The Hollow (2015) is an engaging folk horror entry that has a wonderful dark fairytale atmosphere about it, for a first time director I would say this was a knockout minus a few pacing issues early on, but it makes up for with an engaging story and Irish folklore premise, highly recommended. 4/5

 

Friday, March 25, 2016

THE CITY OF THE DEAD (1960) (Blu-ray Review)

THE CITY OF THE DEAD (1960)

Label: VCI Entertainment

Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 78 Minutes
Video: B/W 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1) 
Audio: English LPCM Mono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: John Moxey 
Cast: Christopher Lee, Dennis Lotis, Betta St John, Patricia Jessel, Venetia Stevenson


Synopsis: A college student, Nan Barlow is researching the history of witchcraft. Taunted by her brother and fiance, who have voiced their concern over her silly notions, Nan arms herself with resolve and drives into the small New England village of Whitewood. She is glad that at least she was able to count on the support of her professor. A bit anxious but consumed with curiosity, she will soon embark herself on the journey of her life! 

John Moxley's classic Gothic chiller The City of the Dead (1960) opens with a fantastic post-credit sequence featuring a witch hunt and burning at the stake in a deeply fog-drenched forest, where the witch Elizabeth Selwyn (
Patricia Jessel) is burned at the stake, before dying she makes a vociferous pact with Lucifer for her soul, cursing the descendants of those who have sent her to her fiery grave. Years later a young college student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) travels to the village of Whitewood in Massachusetts over winter break on the recommendation of her kindly professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee, Horror Express) to do a bit of research for a paper on witchcraft in the area. Once there she takes up a room at the Raven's Inn run by Mrs. Newlis (Patricia Jessel again). Nan finds the hotel occupied by some strange occupants indeed, namely the reincarnation of the infamous witch Elizabeth Selwyn who was burned at the stake in the 17th century. Young and naive Nan unknowingly finds herself marked for sacrifice by a coven of the witch's followers. While poor Nan goes the way of Psycho's Janet Leigh her brother Dick (Dennis Lotis), friend Lottie (Ann Beach) and concerned boyfriend Bill (Tom Naylor) descend upon Whitewood in hopes of finding what has become of her.


That's the simple set-up for this Gothic chiller, simple but effective stuff. This is a first rate British horror movie steeped in wafts of fog, cobwebs and intense creepy atmosphere. It hearkens back to a time when horror was creepy and not  just drenched in visceral gore, as such those with preconceived notions of something a bit more gruesome may be turned off. Those in the mood for a well-paced atmospheric chiller are in for a wonderfully eerie treat, directed by John Moxey, who wold go onto direct the classic '70s TV movie The Night Stalker, which sewed the seeds that would become the TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. The movie also has a top notch cast including horror icon Christopher Lee as Professor Driscoll, who of course is way more involved than it would first appear. Patricia Jessel is fantastic as the virgin murdering witch, by far she was the stand-out performance for me. Young Venetia Stevensen draws you in right from the beginning of the story as the sweetly naive Nan. The creepy slow build-up pays off at the end with a great amped-up finale that will leave you very satisfied. 


Audio/Video:  The City of the Dead arrives in 1080p HD having been restored by VCI with the cooperation of the British Film Institute in the proper, complete and uncut form, including two minutes of additional blasphemy which had been cut from the truncated U.S. version, which can also be found on this disc. Presented in the 1.66 aspect ratio the movie looks pleasant enough in motion with a good clarity and sharpness. The black and white cinematography s fantastic, the fog-shrouded fright film pops in 1080p. However, closer inspection reveals the absence of film grain, marred to a degree by the overly aggressive use of digital noise reduction. Brightness has also been boosted which only serves to accentuate the waxy lack of fine detail in the facial features and contrast issues. While not the most film like presentation, the overly-smooth new transfer is still overall quite nice with the notable exception of the digital scrubbing and boosted brightness. Audio comes by way of a lossless linear PCM Mono 2.0 with optional English yellow subtitles. Dialogue is crisp and clean for the most part, the atmospheric Douglas Gamley score sounds great, he was a composer would go onto to compose scores for many noteworthy Amicus productions including The Vault of Horror, From Beyond the Grave and Madhouse among others. 

Bonus content on the disc begin with no less than three audio commentaries, two of which where ported over from the 2001 DVD from VCI, one with icon Christopher Lee and another with Director John Moxey is more technical in nature while Christopher Lee covers a lot of ground, the star was in fine form on this track. There is also a new commentary from British film historian Bruce G. Hallenbeck who I am not familiar with, but he covers some interesting background, history and asides about the cast and crew, which adds value to the disc. 

Also brought over from the previous release are interviews with actors Christopher Lee and Venetia Stevenson, plus director John Moxey. There is also a new behind-the-scenes interview with Lee from 2001, which is around the time that VCI's previous DVD came about, he seems to be signing autographs and speaking about the movie, not sure if this is from a convention or something at the distributors headquarters, but it is a nice candid interview with Lee recalling the worst write-up he ever received from the British Press. 



As with the recent Blu-ray of Bob Clark's Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things VCI have included a shorter version of the movie in standard definition, the truncated U.S. version known as Horror Hotel, which doesn't look great but for the sake of completeness there it is. The disc is finished-up with a 2-minute trailer for the movie, a gallery of home video artwork, movie posters and images from the movie, plus text crawl video liner notes by reviewer Mike Kenny. About the only thing I would have hoped for would be a sleeve of reversible artwork, maybe the cool green schemed "Ring for Doom Service" Horror Hotel poster art, which would have been very cool. 

Special Features: 

- Horror Hotel, the American Version of City of the Dead (76 Mins) SD 
- Audio Commentary by Bruce Hallenbeck
- Audio Commentary with actor Christopher Lee
- Audio Commentary by Director John Moxey
- Behind the Scenes Interview with Christopher Lee (2001) (16 Mins) 
- Interview with Christopher Lee by Brad Stevens (45 Mins) 
- Interview with Venetia Stevenson (20 Mins) 
- Interview with Director John Moxey (26 Mins) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins) 
- Photo Gallery (3 Mins) HD 
- Video Liner Notes by Mike Kenny, Film Reviewer (4 Mins) HD 


The City of the Dead (1960) is a top-notch Gothic chiller, widely considered the direct precursor to Amicus Films, produced by Milton Subotsky and his future Amicus partner Max J. Rosenberg, a company that would go onto rival Hammer in terms of output, making a slew of '70s anthology horror movies. The new Blu-ray from VCI is stuffed with value-added bonus content, though marred slightly by a waxy transfer, but there is more than enough value on this budget minded Blu-ray to warrant a high recommend. Next to receive the HD treatment from VCI is the '70s paranormal-shocker Ruby with an unhinged Piper Laurie!. 4/5

 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE (2014) (DVD Review)

ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE (2014) 

Label: Wild Eye Releasing 

Region Code: ALL
Duration: 92 Minutes
Rating: Unrated 
Audio: English Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 
Director: Jeremy Garner
Cast: Ehren 'Danger' Mcghehey, Casey Vann, Nick Forrest, Sarah Kobel, Mike Bazanele, Todd A. Robinson, Tommy Hestmark

Synopsis: A story of love, leather ... and brutal violence! When the Satan's Sinners, a vicious biker gang, attack a bride and groom on their wedding day, they get a fight they never imagined. Now, armed with some divine intervention and firepower, the murdered groom is out to save his wife any way he can before she is sacrificed to Satan... even if it means dying over and over again until the job is done.


All Hell Breaks Loose begins like a traditional slasher movie with drunken and horny teens around a campfire sharing a tale of a sodomizing spirit when the a group of rough looking bikers roll up on the party and make quick work of the men in the group before kidnapping the young women. The bikers are members of the Satanic Sinners, a demonic group of murderous thugs looking for virgins to sacrifice in a satanic ritual. Unfortunate newlywed couple Nick and Bobby sue are the next to encounter the deranged bikers, who leave Nich for dead and make off with his virgin bride. 


While Nick is bleeding to death on the side of the road after the encounter a whites-suited cowboy comes along and resurrects him, apparently this is God, and he resurrects the dorky dude with the flick of his cigar. Nick enlists the help of a local Sheriff to go after the gang, and the two are gunned down in a bloody mess, poor Nick is but a puddle of goo after the encounter. With the help of a a pervy priest he is once again resurrected and goes after the gang, who are a bit surprised by the tenacity of the dweebie-guy who refuses to give up. 


All Hell Breaks Loose is a ton of low-budget fun, a humorous take on the seedy biker and satanic panic movies of the '70's amped up with an appreciable amount of gore and laughs that is sure to please exploitation cinema fans. The movie has the scratched-up patina that these modern grindhouse movies seem to love, and while it does raw attention to itself more than it should I do love the aesthetic of the movie, though the scratched-up film print stuff can be annoying. 


The movie does not disappoint in the gore and violence department, some of it is digital blood splatter and such, but there is also a fair amount of old school rubber and blood, more than enough to make me happy. A nice array of exploding heads, severed fingers, melted visages keep things good and gory throughout. The acting is amateur but appropriate for a movie that is aping classic schlock and exploitation cinema, the dialogue is way funny, too. The gang members all act tough, spout of tasty one-liners, and laugh maniacally from start to finish, there's no depth to any of them and I am just fine with that, there's also one who fancies himself as a bit of an Elvis impersonator, which is always fun.  Nick Forrest as our dweeby hero turns in a fun performance as the dorky revenger, The pervy priest is awesome, praying for big-titty women to join his flock, comparing AIDS to gluten-allergies, which is all sorts of wrong and awesome. 

Special Features: 
- Director's Commentary 
- Deleted Scenes (2 Mins) 
- Trailer (2 Mins) 

All Hell Breaks Loose was a demonic biker blast loaded with gore, nudity and humor -- what else do you need? A high recommend for those who love '70s exploitation cinema and low-budget horror production, I hope this one finds an audience on home video who can appreciate how much rockin' fun it is - well worth a watch. 3/5