Thursday, October 6, 2016

DAVID CRONENBERG COLLECTION (RABID/SHIVERS/DEAD ZONE) (Blu-ray Review)

DAVID CRONENBERG COLLECTION 
 SHIVERS (1975) - RABID (1977) - DEAD ZONE (1983)

Label: Via Vision Entertainment
Region Code: A/B
Rating: R
Duration: 88 Minutes I 91 Minutes I 104 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 1.0 I English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: David Cronenberg 
Cast: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry,  Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Tom Skerritt, Brooke Adams 


SHIVERS (1975)

Region Code: A/B
Rating: R
Duration: 88 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono 1.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Cast: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry


In director David Cronenberg's debut film we are brought into the Starliner Towers high-rise on Starline Island. An idyllic community set apart from the stress of city living. However, the wealthy residents affluent lives are about to be turned upside down by the experimentation of mad professor Emil Hobbes (Fred Doederlein) who feels that humanity has lost touch with their sensual selves. To that end he has developed a parasite that spreads like a venereal disease from host to host. He incubates his parasites inside a young woman named Annabelle Brown (Cathy Graham) whom he murders just before he slices open his own throat when he discovers that his teen petri dish has been sleeping her way through the high-rise. The teen-slut has infected numerous men who are now exhibiting an abnormal growth in their abdomen. The building's doctor Roger St. Luc (Paul Hampton) diagnoses a few of these guys and comes to realize what is happening, attempting to thwart the parasitic plague before it can spread to the other inhabitants of the building and beyond.

Among the tenant we have Janine (Susan Petrie) and her husband Nicholas (Allan Kolman, SE7EN), the older but gorgeous Barbara Steel (Nightmare Castle) as a sultry lesbian and Roger's sexy nurse played by Lynn Lowry (George A. Romero's The Crazies). As the parasite spreads the infected are overcome with the urge to fornicate which further spreads the parasite. We have a great scene of Barbara Steele in a bathtub as a parasite crawls into her body in a very naughty way, and another gruesome sight of a parasite leaping into a doctor's face, burning him with an acidic secretion as he pulls them off with a pair of pliers, and a host who stuffs the parasites back into his mouth, there's some truly grotesque stuff happening, loads of uncomfortable body-horror on-screen for the gore-hounds. 


The design of the parasites is pretty simple, just a few inches long and super-gross. They were created by effects wizard Joe Blasco and were achieved with old school in-camera special effects and they look awesome, with loads of blood mixed in with a perverse sexuality throughout - this is total David Cronenberg. Love the scene of someone vomiting a parasite from a balcony which falls right onto an elderly couple below, and another of the parasites crawling up the walker of another older couple as the man flicks it off the walking aid and smashes it. Then there is 
a lesbian kiss wherein we see the throats bulge as the parasite is transferred from one to the other. On top of that we have some strange moments of sexual incest, which is always a subversive sight, the twisted movie has not completely mellowed with age, it holds up. 


Paul Hampton and Joe Silver as the docs trying to curtail the spread of the parasites are strong for the most part, though Hampton comes across cold which might be attributed to his character who at one point rejects Lynn Lowry's advances which is just not human. Barbara Steele and Lynn Lowry provide some gorgeous eye candy throughout, Steele was still a total  fox and a feast for the eyes. 



For a film debut I was a bit surprised to see that it contained all the body-horror elements we would come to associate with Cronenberg in the years to come. Shivers remains a seminal work of body-horror and it's vision of parasite driven sex crimes is disturbing stuff. If I would have been a resident at the Starliner I don't think I could have resisted the sexual charms of either Barbara Steel or Lynn Lowry. Speaking of Lowry, she had previously appeared in I Drink Your Blood (1970) and George Romero's The Crazies (1973) as well as softcore flicks like Sugar Cookies (1971) and Radley Metzger's erotic opus Score (1974), such a gorgeous woman, that final scene with her emerging from the pool is just so super seductive, I'd have given up without a fight right there and then. 

A note about the Shivers transfer, this appears to be the same restoration supervised and approved by David Cronenberg which was produced by Tiff Cinematheque Quebec at Technicolor in 2013. The same cut was previously issued by Arrow video, and missing about twenty-five seconds of footage trimmed from several scenes, which doesn't amount to much in the way of gore or content to be honest, but it is missing just the same and for some cinephiles who need the complete uncut version of the movie this will be a huge issue, but I am here to tell you that it doesn't amount to much and I can live without it. 


Shivers Special Features: 

- Introduction by David Cronenberg (2 Mins) 
- On Screen: The Making of Shivers - Vintage television program interviewing David Cronenberg, co-producer Don Carmody, as well as the cast and crew (48 Mins) 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (1 Mins) HD 

Our review of the Arrow Video release of Shivers can be found HERE


RABID (1977) 
Region Code: A/B
Rating: R
Duration: 91 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono 1.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Cast: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver


In Cronenberg's follow-up to Shivers he treads familiar waters, we have the attractive young woman Rose (adult film star Marilyn Chambers, Behind the Green Door) who is horribly injured in a motorcycle crash along with her boyfriend Hart (Frank Moore) With no proper hospital nearby she is brought to a plastic surgery clinic where she is operated on by Dr. Keloid (Howard Ryshpan) who has just developed an experimental new type of skin-graft, and given the opportunity he seizes the chance to test his unproven methods. The surgery appears to work and Rose recovers while in a coma at the clinic. When she awakens from the coma it becomes clear that something is not right about the young woman, she has been transformed into a contagious blood-sucker. Not of the Gothic fanged variety, what we have is something more along the lines of the body-horror we would come to know Cronenberg for. In place of a pair of fangs Rose has a needle-like tentacle protrusion which comes out of her armpit, draining blood from her victims. The new blood-sucking appendage seems to act on its own without her control, in fact she seems unaware of the new appendage and the harm that it inflicts
on others. 

Her first victim is a patient at the clinic, a place she runs away from, continuing to drain victims as she travels across the countryside on her way back to Montreal, each time she drains someone they're transformed into a crazed cannibal, leaving behind a trail of rabid infected who continue to spread the plague. Eventually the city of Montreal is overrun with the violent infected and the city is declared to be under Martial Law. 


Cronenberg is working with a familiar premise for those who have watched Rabid, the spread of venereal type disease which transforms its victims - only this time on a larger scale, affecting the entire city of Montreal. Our patient-zero is played by sex-film star Marilyn Chambers, who does very good work here in her first and only venture into the world of legit movies. Given her solid performance here I am a tiny but surprised she never had a legit movie career afterward, or at least did not appear in a few more non-adult movies. Chambers has a vulnerability about her, a girl-next-door sweetness that makes it easy to sympathize with her even though she is the one spreading the plague around. She has a scene right at the end where she chooses to make a sacrifice, while it is not academy award worthy stuff she does what needs to be done for this low-budget action-horror movie, her performance is decently affecting. 


The movie feels like a next step movie fro Cronenberg, the gore is minimal but there are plenty of gruesome sights to take in for fans of troubling imagery, including the police gunning down a Santa at the local mall, plus Dr. Keloid becomes infected and goes rabid during a delicate surgical procedure, slicing off the finger of his nurse before gnawing on his surgical patient. The film manages to be gruesome and thought provoking is several ways, and the ideas and themes introduced throughout sort of haunted me for a while after watching it. An early Cronenberg entry that had a lot going on beyond the usual zombie-epidemic of the premise, but there's also plenty of that too. 


Rabid Special Features: 

- Introduction By Director David Cronenberg (11 Mins) 
- Audio Commentary with Director David Cronenberg 
- Interviews with David Cronenberg (21 Mins) 
- Documentary: The Directors with David Cronenberg (59 Mins) 


THE DEAD ZONE (1983) 
Region Code: A/B

Rating: R
Duration: 104 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Cast: Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Tom Skerritt, Brooke Adams


David Cronenberg's adaptation of Stephen King's novel The Dead Zone takes place in (where else?) Castle Rock, Maine, where a middle school teacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) is dating fellow teacher Sarah (Brooke Adams). After a night at the carnival he drops Sarah off at home, sweetly rebuffing her invitation to spend the night, saying "some things are worth waiting for". Driving home through a heavy downpour he is involved in an accident and lays in coma for five years, awaking to the news that Sarah has moved on and married since the accident. 

He recovers at the hospital under the care of  Dr. Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom), discovering that he now has the "gift" of second sight, foreseeing that a nurse's house is on fire and her daughter is in danger. The panicked nurse runs home and it turns out that Johnny's vision was accurate. Afterward, he becomes a sort of local celebrity weirdo, becoming a recluse to avoid the stares and inquiries of the curious in the small town who begin to fear him. 


Sheriff George Bannerman (Tom Skerritt) approaches Johnny hoping to use his gift to solve a series of grisly killings which have plagued the area for years. Initially he refuses but when the Castle Rock Killer strikes again he comes around, using his gift for good, though it feels more like a curse to Johnny. When he is taken to one of the crime scenes he senses that the killer is actually Deputy Frank Dodd (Nicholas Campbell, The Shape of Things to Come), while attempting to apprehend the murderous deputy Johnny is shot by the suspects mother and the deputy kills himself in a memorable death-by-scissors scene. After the incident Johnny moves to a neighboring city where he is hired by the wealthy Roger Stuart (Anthony Zerbe) to tutor his young son Chris (Simon Craig), who is abnormally shy but takes a liking to Johnny right away. While working for Stuart Johnny meets a charismatic but crooked political candidate named Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen). After shaking hands with the Stillson his second-sight kicks in and Johnny is overcome with an apocalyptic vision of the future, of the politician's rise in power, an ascent that will culminate in a nuclear apocalypse. Now Johnny must decide is he should take matters into his own hands and change the course of the future through whatever means necessary. This is a story that holds up very well, both as a Stephen King story and as an entrancing Cronenberg entry. 


The movie can be seen as making the argument that political assassination is a necessary course of action, which I found very intriguing. I've always found Cronenberg's movies to be a bit on the cold side in regard to warmth and emotion but this one is full of warmth, the chemistry between Walken and Brooke Adams is quite nice, as the former couple rekindle their relationship, fulfilling the promise of things worth waiting for. Christopher Walken is wonderful as usual, a quirky recluse with awkward hair who lives with his dad, wants to be left alone, but whose visions of the future force him to take action, it's great stuff. Martin Sheen (The Believers) is charismatic but ultimately evil senatorial candidate, and Herbert Lom (Mark of the Devil) is quite good as Dr. Sam Weizak. There is a wonderful scene of he and Johnny speaking about the morality of going back in time and killing Adolf Hitler, a conversation which sends Johnny on his assassination quest, that is so well handled by both actors. Lom is a powerhouse who many will remember as Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus from the Pink Panther Movies, others will recognize him from a string of low-budget horror and exploitation movies from the 70s, he's a welcome addition to the cast here. Brooke Adams (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) always exudes a small town charm with a sweet smile and a soft spot for Walken, whose path seems destined to cross with that of Johnny, she makes for a wonderful love interest. 


The movie is an odd one in the Cronenberg canon, a movie I do not feel is truly recognized as either a top-notch Cronenberg entry nor for being one of the best of the Stephen King adaptations. The Dead Zone is an enthralling watch, accentuated by a wonderful Michael Kamen score and a bittersweet final note. I do hope this Blu-ray earns the underrated flick some much deserved love from those who might have overlooked this David Cronenberg/Stephen King gem. 


The Dead Zone Special Features:

- Audio Commentary from screenplay writer Stephen Jones and Film Critic Kim Newman
- Memories from The Dead Zone (12 Mins) with 
- The Look of The Dead Zone (9 Mins) 
- Visions and Horror from The Dead Zone (10 Mins) 
- The Politics of The Dead Zone (12 Mins) 
- Original Trailer (2 Mins) HD 

Audio/Video: The three-disc set arrives from Via Vision housed in a three-disc Blu-ray case, each movie appearing on its own separate disc. The films are presented in 1080p widescreen looking solid though a bit uneven, particularly Rabid which was made on the cheap and has certain limitations that show through, though of no fault to the transfer. It should be noted that the Shivers cut appears to be the same restoration supervised and approved by Director David Cronenberg which was produced by Tiff Cinematheque Quebec at Technicolor in 2013 and also appeared on the initial Arrow Video pressing in the UK, which was cut and met with the expected outcry. Arrow initiated a disc replacement program to replace that version with a fully uncut version of the movie, but the version here is that same cut which is missing about twenty-five seconds of footage. For the sake of comparison check out the video below from Arrow Video showing the differences between the  R-rated cut, which is what Via Vision are offering, and the uncut version.  




The audio on these disc might prove problematic for the HD purists, The Dead Zone offers an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track with optional English subtitles, sounding crisp and clean with some good depth, the Michael Kamen score sounds outstanding. However, both Rabid and Shivers both receive lossy Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono audio tracks, both tracks sound good within the confines of the lossy format, optional English subtitles are also provided. 

The disc which is labeled as Region B is also playable on Region A Blu-ray players, which is great. Extras on Shivers include an introduction by David Cronenberg, a 48-minute vintage television interviewing David Cronenberg, co-producer Don Carmody, as well as the cast and crew, plus the original theatrical trailer for the movie. Onto the Rabid disc we get hour-long doc The Directors: David Cronenberg, a 1999 documentary on the filmmaker with interviews from Cronenberg, Marilyn Chambers, Deborah Harry, Michael Ironside, Peter Weller and others, a Croneberg commentary, and 21-minutes of archival interviews with the director. The Dead Zone disc carries over all the extras from the region 1 Paramount Special Collector's Edition DVD which includes four making of featurettes adding up to about 43-minutes, plus the original theatrical trailer. Via Vision's disc also includes an audio commentary from writer Stephen Jones and Film Critic Kim Newman which is quite a good listen and is carried over from the UK release from Sanctuary Video Entertainment. 


The Via Vision Cronenberg Collection is a quality set, perhaps a bit on the anemic side when compared to Arrow Video's region B locked releases of Rabid and Shives, but as a budget-minded collection this is a decent package for North American buyers with a healthy dose of extras. It does lose some points for not having the complete version of Shivers and for the lossy audio on both Rabid and Shivers, but overall this is a nice Cronenberg package from Via Vision, which can be found for a great price online. 


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