Monday, December 26, 2016

MCBASTARD'S BEST OF 2016

MCBASTARD'S BEST OF 2016 - NOT IN ANY PARTICULAR ORDER

BEST 16 OF 2016 NEW RELEASES

1. HUSH
2. LIGHTS OUT
3. THE WAILING
4. I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER
5. I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE
6. NEON DEMON
7. GREEN ROOM
8. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
9. THE WITCH
10. BITE
11. THE INVITATION
12. LAST GIRL STANDING 
13. SOUTHBOUND 
14. TRAIN TO BUSAN 
15. EYES OF MY MOTHER
16. AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE 

LIST OF SHAME: NEW STUFF I STILL HAVE NOT WATCHED, BUT WILL EVENTUALLY...
1. DON'T BREATH
2. 31
3. OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL
4. PURGE: ELECTION YEAR
5. THE BOY
6. BLAIR WITCH
7. BASKIN
8. THE CONJURING 2

BEST 16 OF 2016 RETRO RELEASES/RE-ISSUES - NO PARTICULAR ORDER
1. A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN (Mondo Macabro) 
2. SLUGS (Arrow Video)
3. CREEPSHOW 2 (Arrow Video) 
4. PIECES (Grindhouse Releasing) 
5. CHOPPING MALL (Vestron Video/Lionsgate) 
6. AMERICAN HORROR PROJECT VOL.1 (Arrow Video)
7. BLACK CHRISTMAS (SCream Factory)
8. I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (Grindhouse Releasing) 
9. BLUE SUNSHINE (Filmcentrix) 
10. THE THING (Scream Factory)
11. DR. BUTCHER M.D. (Severin Films) 
12. VENOM (Blue Underground) 
13. THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION VOL.3 (Scream Factory) 
14. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (Scream Factory)
15. THE HILLS HAVE EYES (Arrow Video)
16. WAXWORK/WAXWORK 2 (Vestron Video/Lionsgate)

HONORABLE RETRO MENTIONS: 
1. EXORCIST III (Scream Factory) 
2. HELLRAISER: THE SCARLET BOX TRILOGY (Arrow Video) 
3. THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD III (Vestron Video/Lionsgate) 
4. HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (Code Red) 

Well, there you have it, done. 

THE DEVIL LIVES HERE (2015) (DVD Review)

THE DEVIL LIVES HERE (2015)  
AKA O DIABLO MORA AQUI (THE FOSTERING) 

Label: Artsploitation Films
Duration: 80 Minutes 
Rating: Unrated 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Audio: Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with English Subtitles
Directors: Rodrigo Gasparini, Dante Vescio
Cast: Pedro Carvalho, Ivo Müller, Sidney Santiago, Clara Verdier, Diego Goullart, Pedro Caetano, Felipe Frazão, Mariana Cortines

In this Brazilian slice of folk-horror we have three friends, Ale (Marianna Cortines), Jorge (Diego Goullart) and Maria Augusta (Clara Verdier)driving out to a remote plantation to spend the weekend at a small plantation home with their friend Apolo (Pedro Carvalho. The plantation was once owned by the sadistic Honey Baron (Ivo Muller) who treated his black skinned slaves with a particularly harsh brand of cruelty, before they rose up against him. The tale involves a curse placed on the Baron by the mother of a slave named Bento (Sidney Santiago) who figures prominently into he story.

A few descendants of the former slaves must return to the plantation every nine months to perform an occult ritual to ward of the ghostly return of the Barom, but a recent death in the family has disturbed the usual proceedings, which places the four teens, and the would-be exorcists, in peril. A lot of the mishap stems from Apolo performing his own misguided ritual, which he had hoped would free the spirit of a young boy said to haunt the home, but as you might expect when kids go out to a cabin in the woods and fool around with demonic spirits shit has a way of going wrong, which it does. 

The movie is well-shot and acted by all involved, I love Brazilian folk-horror aspect of it, and the movie is plenty bloody. You can sort of sum up the movie's influences as cabin-in-the-woods horror of Evil Dead by way of Candyman, with flashbacks to the past involving the Honey Barons brutality complete with a beehives and honey-laden killing. A certain ghost wears a odd looking wicker-made beekeeper suit which looks great on screen, and the movie also touches on the racism of the past, which is another nice touch and adds to the story. 

The imagery has a nice creepy tone to it with the cinematography casting a copper glow that brought to mind Del Toro's Spanish ghost-tale The Devil's Backbone which suited the story nicely. I will say that I didn't quite "get it" the first watch, a second watch brought a greater appreciation, though I didn't love it, I thought this was a very good foreign occult entry, and I look forward to what directors Rodrigo Gasparini and Dante Vescio do next, this was a nicely executed first film, well-worth a watch. 3/5

HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986) (30th Anniversary) (Blu-ray Review)

HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986)
30th Anniversary Blu-ray 

Label: DarK Sky Films

Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, English LPCM 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Fullscreen (1.33:1) 
Director: John McNaughton
Cast: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold

Synopsis: Henry (Michael Rooker) is a psychopathic drifter who has coldly murdered a number of people for no particular reason and without any remorse. Leaving scores of bodies in his wake, Henry makes his way to Chicago, where his murderous streak continues and he settles into the rundown apartment of his drug-dealing former prison friend Otis (Tom Towles). Also moving into the space is Otis’s younger sister Becky (Tracy Arnold), who is fleeing from her abusive husband. Henry soon reveals his troubled childhood background to Becky, which resulted in Henry’s murder of his mother, the crime that landed him in prison. Unbeknownst to Becky, Henry continues to commit a series of random killings along with Otis, who has quickly developed a taste for murder…


Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986) never fails to elicit a gut-level response from me, one of the darkest and most chilling of all serial killer movies ever made, it opens with a nauseating electronic score and a montage of horrific after-murder images of women in various states of death and undress. The images include a nude woman and left on the side of the road, a corpse floating in a pond, a woman slumped over a toilet with broken beer bottle shoved into her face, it's nauseating stuff. Enter Henry, played with quality cold intensity by Michael Rooker (Mallrats) a day-laborer who gets by on menial work such as bug killing, he drives an old rusty car and lives with his ex-con drug dealing Otis (Tom Towles) in a squalid Chicago apartment. At first Otis is unaware of his flat mates proclivities for murdering women, which is revealed later in the film when the duo are tag teaming a pair of whores in Henry's car when he suddenly kills both the women to the shock of Otis, but not too much of a shock, for the pair embark on a murder spree together soon after. Otis's sister Becky (Tracy Arnold) comes to stay with them following a break-up with her abusive husband, and soon after her and Henry bond over stories of matricide and sexual molestation, which is just so friggin' so sweet. 


Throughout the movie we follow Otis and Henry as they embark on a chilling murder spree, each more chilling and depraved than the last. One of the most notorious is the murder of suburban family inside their home, which is caught on video tape by the the killers, a harrowing encounter, one that slyly makes the viewer complicit in the awful crime, which includes the murder of a father, mother and their young son, this is frightful stuff. Another murder has the two visiting a fence in search of a new TV, when he gets on their bad side (bad idea) and ends up stabbed multiple times with a soldering iron, the coup de gra being a TV set smashed over his head, electrocuting him. 


Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the movie is the cold detachment of the killers, they have no remorse, no guilt, no moral issue with their sickening crimes, with Henry being the more calm of the pair, his demeanor is always soft-spoken and collected, punctuated by extreme fits of violence. Otis is more wild of the pair, the loose-canon with a bad comb-over and bad teeth, he's way sleazier compared to Henry who is well-mannered by comparison. Towles gives a wonderfully greasy performance here as the creep whose twisted ways extend to having incestuous thoughts about his own sister, which doesn't sit to well with Henry, leading to a confrontation and a brutal eye-gouging scene. 


The movie is set in Chicago and really captures the seedier part of the city in the 80s, this is is not the Chicago from the John Hughes movies I saw as a kid, this is the bad part of town, this is where the low-lives live and where bad things happen everyday. Rooker is astounding in the role, I love his conversations with Otis and his sister, winning Otis over with his murder-rules and how to get away with it, speaking with his sister, sharing traumatic stories about his no-legged father, his whore of his mother and how he murdered her, sometimes his stories are contradictory, and it all adds to his character. 


Henry is not a fun watch, this is not a Friday the 13th type 80s slasher you can rewatch and have fun with, this is a nauseating movie based in reality, one of those movies that makes you feel dirty. Even though the gore is not over-stated there's plenty of bloody violence but it's not of the Tom Savini variety, this is just real world violence that makes you feel sick, which is why the movie is so notorious and why it has prospered for so long on home video, this is tough stuff, this is a horror classic.     

Audio/Video: Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer arrives on Blu-ray for a second time from Dark Sky Films with a freshly minted 4K scan and restoration from the 16mm original camera negatives,with a brand new DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix from the stereo 35mm mag reels, all approved by director John McNaughton. This is the best it has ever appeared on home video, framed in the original full frame aspect ratio the movie looks a bit better than the 2009 Blu-ray, the details are a bit finer, the clarity is slightly sharper, but this was shot on 16mm and will always look that way, but this is a notch better than the 2009 release. The new surround mix sound very good, not an in-your-face mix, very subtle, the electronic score bleeding into the surrounds to great effect, the original LPCM 2.0 stereo track is also included, along with optional English subtitles.  


Th A/V upgrade is nice, but just being honest Henry is not a movie you need to see cleaned-up to be effective, a lot like TCM, this is a grim and gritty watch, no upgrade necessary, but the reason you should upgrade is for the extras on this release which total nearly three hours in length. We begin with the vintage extras that have been carried over from the 2009 Blu-ray, the audio commentary and 31-min '88 interview with director McNaughton, the 55-min making of doc, 22-min of deleted scenes/outtakes, original trailer and storyboards. The only extra not carried over is "The Serial Killers: Henry Lee Lucas" doc that was on both the 2008 Blu-ray and the 2006 DVD. 


New to this release are 88-mins of brand new extras which are excellent. We have a new 28-min interview with McNaughton, a 9-min interview with Artist Joe Coleman who created the awesome one-sheet poster for the movie (which is available as a reverse art option on this release), an 11-min visual essay about the history of the MPAA and the movies struggles with the fickle ratings board, plus a 28-min interview with author Stephen Thrower who goes into great detail about the movies struggles with the BBFC. There's also an 11-min appreciation of the film featuring director Joe Swanberg, film critic Kim Morgan, cinema professor Jeffrey Sconce, Joe Bob Briggs (MonsterVision) and legendary documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, plus the new 30th Anniversary Trailer for the film. 


As far as packaging extras I am very pleased that Dark Sky have seen fit to offer a reversible sleeve of artwork, the grotesque Joe Coleman artwork that was featured on the 20th anniversary DVD but was missing from the 2009 Bl-ray, glad to see that corrected, I think that option is preferable to the a-side artwork which is a bit drab by comparison. Inside there's a 12-page booklet with writing on the film from author Stephen Thrower with a few behind-the-scenes images, it also includes notes about the new 4K transfer/restoration and audio mixes. 


Special Features: 

– NEW In the Round: A Conversation with John McNaughton (28 Min) HD 
– NEW In Defense of Henry: An Appreciation (11 Min) HD 
– NEW Henry vs. MPAA: A Visual History (11 Min) HD 
– NEW Henry at the BBFC: An Interview with NIGHTMARE USA Author Stephen Thrower (27 Min) HD 
– NEW It’s Either You or Them: An Interview with Artist Joe Coleman (9 Min) HD 
– NEW 30th Anniversary Trailer (2 Min) HD
– Interview with John McNaughton, 1988 (31 Min)
- Commentary with Director John McNaughton (21 Min) HD 
– Portrait: The Making of Henry (53 Min) 
– Deleted Scenes/Outtakes (22 Min)
– Original Trailer (2 Min) HD 
– Still Gallery (45 Images) HD 
– Storyboards (81 Images) HD 
– 12-Page Booklet with an Essay by Stephen Thrower 

Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986) is still a harrowing watch, an uneasy exploration of the mind and life of a cold-blooded killer, this is about as near as getting inside the head of a killer as you can get without having blood on your hands, this is the real deal. The new 30th anniversary edition looks and sounds fantastic and the extras are plentiful, this is a must-own for horror fans, though not for everyone. 5/5


Saturday, December 24, 2016

99 WOMEN (1969) 3-Disc Unrated Director's Cut (Blu-ray Review)



99 WOMEN (1969)
3-Disc Unrated Director's Cut 

Label: Blue Underground
Region Code: Region FREE
Duration: 90 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA MA 1.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1) 
Director: Jess Franco 
Cast: Maria Schell, Mercedes McCambridge, Maria Rohm, Rosalba Neri, Herbert Lom

Strap yourself in for a raucous mix of eurocult sexploitation and filthy WIP action with the yet another Jess Franco/Harry Alan Towers team-up! This time around we are watching 99 Women (1969), wherein a new female inmate Marie (Maria Rohm) arrives at the infamous "Castle of Death" island women for prison, a grim place ruled with an iron fist by the wicked prison warden Thelma Diaz (Mercedes McCambridge, The Exorcist), a cruel woman who strips the women of their names and gives them a number, poor blond Maria (Rohm) becoming number "98". 

We find out that Maria was convicted and sent to the island prison for killing one of her rapists, how dare she. She arrives at the island via boat alongside a prostitute named Helga (Elisa Montes, The Girl From Rio) and a drug addict in withdrawal named Natalie (Luciana Paluzzi, Thunderball), though poor Natalie is not around long, dying within minute of the start of the movie. When nice girl Maria calls on the guards for help to assist the dying woman she is punished for her troubles by the Warden who locks her away in a secluded cell with rapey-lesbian named Zoie (a very sexy Rosalba Neri, The French Sex Murders) who forces herself on Maria. Afterward she is pimped out to the corrupt official, Governor Santos (Herbert Lom, Mark of the Devil). It turns out that the Warden has been treating Santos to a steady supply of the more attractive female inmates for his own sexual delights. It just wouldn't be a WIP movie without the rape, torture and cruelty of the women behind bars, and Franco is only too happy to oblige in all department with his usual array of kinky perversity and zoom-in auteurism. However, this arrangement in threatened when do-gooder prison administrator Leonie (Maria Schell, The Bloody Judge) arrives to investigate the recent string of inmate deaths, the most recent being the drug-addict Natalie. She is appalled by the conditions at the prison after witnessing the humiliation and abuses suffered by the women, including that of Maria whom she takes a liking too. Of course, the wicked warden and naughty governor are none happy with her idea of reformation, but it seems that the reforms have come too late, and a daring escape through the jungle is hatched by Maria and the other women who are fed up with the abuse. 

Maria Rohm (Eugenie... The Story of Her Journey Into Perversion) gives a good dramatic performance in a movie with no shortage of attractive women, all of whom are used and abused by the corrupt warden. The usual WIP tropes apply here with plenty of nude women, a bit of woman on woman love/rape, a couple of cat fights, and the tropical air is thick with jailer-corruption, but it's all in good fun. To be honest the movie is not all that brutal when compared to what would follow in the coming years, but it is a seedy slice of Franco-directed WIP that is hard to forget, particularly for the troubling sexual politics/crimes perpetrated on poor Maria, who is forcibly raped by an fellow woman inmate, only to succumb to her own lust as she begins to enjoy the rape! Peckinpah (Straw Dogs) would be proud, haha.  As a slice of WIP you sort of have to expect these sort of troubling and improbable male fantasies, right? The movie is visually pleasing on all fronts with some great set decoration and tropical locations with some nice Franco lensing, including a nightmare of the rape Maria endured, the one which sent her to prison for murder, and it has a nice arthouse voyeuristic quality to it, well done Mr. Franco. 

While this must have been some of the worst filth to find its way into the cinema in 1969 I will say that 99 Women doesn't have a whole lot of shock value these days, it seems quite tame compared to some of the '80s WIP flicks, but the draw for me is the allure of Jess Franco's brand of delirious exploitation, and this was notably his first foray behind bars, but it would certainly not be his last, or even his best. Also pushing this movie along are the performances of Lom and McCambridge as the corrupt prison officials, Lom is sort of quietly corrupt with a stately demeanor, but McCambridge really gets to camp it up here as the authoritarian jailer, she gives a wonderfully wicked performance that made the movie for me and keeps me coming back time and time again.   

Audio/Video: 99 Women (1969) arrives on Blu-ray with a fresh 4K scan from the original negative and colors are lush and nicely saturated, skin tones look natural and the black levels are decent. Unfortunately the image looks like it has been treated to a massive dose of digital noise reduction, wiping away trace amounts of grain and smearing away fine detail, leaving behind a waxy and plasticine image that takes away from the viewing experience, which for some will be a deal-breaker. Audio on the disc comes by way of a DTS-HD MA Mono 1.0 track which sounds damn good, dialogue is crisp and clean, no issues with hiss or distortion. Notably, the cool Bruno Nicolai score comes through strong with some decent depth, even that annoying pop/theme song, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Onto packaging and extras we have three discs housed within a clear Criterion-style keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork plus a 20-page collector's booklet with cast and crew info, CD track listing and chapter selection plus writing on the film from noted author Stephen Thrower adapted from his book  Murderous Passions: The - Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco, which is a great read, no one writes about Franco with such intelligent passion as Thrower. 

Onto the discs, we have a DVD and Blu-ray with the same feature and extras, plus a third disc, a CD with the Bruno Nicolai score, licensed from Beat Records. Special features begin with a 2005 interview with Jess Franco who speaks about the production, cast and his collaboration with producer Harry Alan Tower, this is a carry over from the previous BU DVD release. New is a 16-minute interview with author Stephen Thrower who speaks about the film within the context of Franco's body of work, commenting the director's collaboration with the notorious producer who would apparently wine and dine the big name stars of the movies at the expense of the shooting budget! There's also a selection of three deleted scenes, including an extended rape scene and two other scenes sources from inferior VHS sources which don't add up to much. Finishing up the extras there's a poster and still gallery, the salacious original trailer, the collector's booklet and CD soundtrack.   

Special Features: 

- Jess' Women - 2005 Interview with Director Jess Franco (17 Min) HD 
- Jess, Harry and 99 WOMEN - Interview with Stephen Thrower, author of "Murderous Passions: The - Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco" (16 Mins) HD 
- Deleted & Alternate Scenes (23 Min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Min) HD 
- Poster & Still Gallery (70 Images) HD 
- Collectable Booklet includes writing by author Stephen Thrower
- 99 WOMEN Original Motion Picture Soundtrack CD by Bruno Nicolai (27 Tracks) 

A prime slice of Jess Franco WIP on Blu-ray from Blue Underground, this one slightly marred slightly by the unfortunate digital clean-up, but if you're a Franco-phile and enjoy his collaborations with the notorious producer Harry Alan Towers you're probably still gonna want to own this one. If you're a perv (aren't we all?) Blue Underground have also released a 3-Disc Limited Edition Blu-ray containing the same extras and the director's cut, plus the notorious 98-minute French Version with hardcore sex inserts not shot by Jess Franco, which doesn't interest me. 


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) (Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review)

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) 

Label: Scream Factory

Region Code: A
Duration: 98 Minutes
Rating: R
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo, English DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: (Disc 1) 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1), (Disc 2) 1080P HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Bob Clark
Cast: Andrea Martin, Art Hindle, Doug McGrath, James Edmond, John Saxon, Keir Dullea, Lynne Griffin, Margot Kidder, Marian Waldman, Olivia Hussey


I remember watching the seminal holiday slasher Black Christmas alone on late night cable TV back in the late 80s or early 90s and it gave me the creeps, even though at the time I was way into gore and nudity in horror movies, something this classic doesn't deliver, but it does deliver loads of dread and holiday chills, not too mention it is one of the greatest slasher movies of all time. For years this movie was sort of a hidden gem for slasher fans, not much spoken of, but in recent years it has become a beloved Christmas-horror classic, one now rightfully remembered as coming years before John Carpenter's Halloween and it is still one of the most effective and chilling slashers of them all. Directed by the late Bob Clark who has two undisputed Christmas classics under his belt, this dread-filled slice of terror and the beloved family-film A Christmas Story, you know, the one with the kid Ralphie on his quest for a mythical Red Rider BB gun, not to mention the seminal teen-comedy Porky's!

The movie begins with an eerie POV shot of someone creepily stalking around outside the Phi Kappa Sigma sorority house, crawling up the side of the place on a trellis and making his way inside the house through an attic window. Inside the house a group of sorority sisters are drinking and enjoying a Christmas Party before Winter Break begins. During the celebration Jessica Bradford (Olivia Hussey, Stephen King's It) answers the phone to the sounds of a heavy-breathing obscene phone caller who has apparently called before, they refer to him as "the moaner" and listen in to his lunatic ramblings, the witty lush of the group Barb (Margot Kidder, Sisters) grabs the phone and eggs the caller on with her own brand of sailor-mouthed wit before hanging up on him in spectacular fashion. Meanwhile nice girl Clare (Lynne Griffin) heads upstairs to her bedroom to pack for Christmas break when she is distracted by the mewing sounds of what would seem to be the beloved house cat named Claude coming from within her closet. Entering the closet to find the feline she is attacked and suffocated with a sheet of plastic in a truly shocking and frightful scene, the killer carries her corpse to the attic and places it in a rocking chair in front of the attic window with the plastic still wrapped around face, its a frightening image and one we see throughout the film, it's chilling stuff. 


The next day Clare's uptight father arrives looking to take his sweet daughter home but oddly none of the sorority sisters know where she's gone to. Coming up empty handed they go to the campus police station where they are assured that she has probably just run off with her boyfriend for he weekend, which is of no comfort to her stuffy dad. This turns out not be the case, which we find out when her boyfriend Chris (Art Hindle, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) shows up at the police station confirming to Lt. Kenneth Fuller (John Saxon, A Nightmare on Elm Street). Soon after a young girl from town goes missing and is found murdered in a nearby park, at which point Lt. Fuller begins to suspect that the disappearance of the sorority sister might be connected. Once he finds out that the sorority house has been receiving strange phone calls he places a tap on the phone, which in the 70s seemed like quite a chore, according to the movie, there's  scene of someone from the phone company combing through a huge room full of vintage 70s electronics. 

The creepy phone calls persist through the next night and escalate in intensity, the lunatic caller's weird and unnerving profanity laced calls are nightmare fuel and are still one of the most terrifying things about the movie. Hissing things like "juicy cock" and "pretty pig cunt" that must have been shocking to theater goers in the 70's! We as viewers know that there's a lunatic in the attic, there's an intruder in the home, but we don't know who exactly, and the movie does throw a few possible suspects our way, Clare's boyfriend Chris seems like an alright guy, but Jessica's boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea, 2001: A Space Odyssey) is a bit of a high-strung weirdo, an aspiring pianist with a violent streak who is angered by Jessica's decision to terminate her pregnancy without his consent, and when the killer-crank caller references the abortion during a creepy call it certainly seems like he might be the guy. Like the vulgarity laced prank calls the abortion issue was still pretty taboo in the 70s, and must have been a head-turner, too. 


The tone of the movie is creepy and dread-filled, the sorority house is a great setting and feels very Christmas-y, lots of xmas light, christmas carollers, wind and snow abound, this is a xmas movie that feels very xmas-y. True to form director Bob Clark manages to sneak in some humor throughout the movie, beginning with Barb's near constant parade of inappropriate comments, such as when she points out sarcastically that "you can't rape a towney" or when she gives the dim-witted keystone cop Sgt. Nash (Douglas McGrath, the gym teacher from Porky's) a phone number with the false exchange of FE for "felatio", which never fails to make me laugh. Also golden are the interactions between the sorority housemother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman) with Clare's stuffy father, which is always good stuff, with her trying in vain to cover up the racy counter-culture posters on the bedroom walls. Ms. Mac is a just a hoot, a fun older woman who hides bottles of liquor in various hidden places, from the back of the toilet tank to inside of cleverly hollowed out books, she even rinses her mouth with whiskey after brushing her teeth, this broad might have a problem! 

As sometimes happens, the moments of humor serve to heighten the fear, this movie is a chiller through and through, as the killer continues to make the creepy phone calls, emerging from his hiding place within the house to claim more victim one by one until there remains only one, and only then does she realize with the help of the phone tap that the calls are actually coming from within the house! Sure, everyone seems to remember a similar scenario is When A Stranger Calls but this is the first movie to do the whole calls-are-coming-from-in-the-house thing. As frightful as this movie can be it is not a gore-classic, the terror comes through the use of shadow, dread and some chilling sound design, though a few of the kills are rather inspired. The suffocating of Clare with the plastic wrap at the beginning is frightening, the way her corpse is revisited throughout the movie is also eerily effective. The way poor Mrs. Mac goes out with an implied hood to the face is also just brutal, and another death by glass unicorn would not be out of place in an Argento classic. While the movie is not a river of blood the imagery and execution is blood curdling stuff, a few scenes of the killer's eye peering through the darkness are potent images. 


One of the strongest aspects of the movie is the ensemble cast, the sorority sisters are a fun bunch, they feel realistic, not too over-the-top, beginning with Margot Kidder as the acerbic lush Barb, I loved her. Then we have Jessica played by Olivia Hussey who turns out to be the final girl at a time before we really had the final girl formula of the 80s, she does good work throughout. Andrea Martin from the TV's SCTV  shows up as one of the more buttoned-down sisters, she doesn't do a whole lot or get a ton of screen time, but I love that you at least get a feel for these people before their numbers are up. Of course I have to mention one Mr. John Saxon (Tenebre) as the detective, this guy always classes up a picture! Black Christmas is a tense watch that does it without resorting to epic amounts of gore or nudity, but through the use of tone, shadow and crafty sound design, and it only gets better with age, and what an ending, the phone ringing over the closing credits, so chilling, so good! 

Audio/Video: At long last Black Christmas arrives on Blu-ray with significant upgrade to the image quality, which I appreciate as I've owned about as many versions of Black Christmas as I have Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2  -- which is A LOT! Scream Factory went back to the original negative for a new 2K scan and the results are pleasing when compared to both the Critical Mass and Anchor Bay Blu-rays. The movie is a low-budget 70s movie so it is never going to be pristine and crisp, but right away you will notice that the grain is better managed and more finely resolved than previous editions, black levels are deeper, details are richer, the skin tones are cooler and not so red, the colors are more natural looking, this is just a very pleasing transfer. Noteworthy, Scream Factory's new 2K scan presents the film in Bob Clark's preferred aspect ratio of 1.85:1, but for those who prefer the original framing you can find it on he second disc, however, this is the 2006 Critical Mass HD Master with the 1.78:1 framing and is not a new transfer, so it does not look nearly as good. Scream's aspect ratio does lose some lower and upper frame image, but it looks so good, I didn't mind the new framing at all, but I will say that I find their recent spate of multi-framing options a bit weird and possibly confusing, their release of Cronenberg's Dead Ringers also has two framing options. 


Audio on disc one includes three audio options along with the new 2K scan, we get English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo, DTS-HD MA Mono and DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround. Notably this is the first Blu-ray release to feature a mono track, which is great, but there's an issue, notably some hiss and harsh sounding s-words, which I found very distracting. The surround mix is okay but it's a classic case of an older movie sounding forced when opened up for a surround presentation. In an ideal world the mono track would be the way to go here, but I say stick with the stereo track on this release. The version of the film on the second disc comes with only a surround option. 

Extras on disc one include all the commentaries from previous DVD and Blu-ray editions, totaling three. We have one with Bob Clark, which is essential listening, and a second with John Saxon and Keir Dullea, which is alright. The third commentary is more of a novelty, a commentary with actor Nick Mancuso in character as "Billy" from the movie, which is all sort of nuts. Additionally there is thirty-minute interview with Bob Clark which can be listed to while viewing the film, in it Clark discusses the impact of the film and his legacy. I sort of wish we would have had a new commentary on the disc, something from Kim Newman or Stephen Thrower, someone from the outside looking in on the movie as a fan of horror, that would have been awesome, but I am just nitpicking here. 



Onto the second disc Scream Factory carry-over nearly all the extras from the previous Blu-ray and DVD releases, I think there might be one interview missing. They go the extras mile and add two brand new interviews which are exclusive for this release, one with actor Art Hindle and a second with actress Lynne Griffin totalling nearly an hour. The vintage stuff is nothing to sneeze at either, we have the awesome 40-min Black Christmas Legacy doc which was on the Canadian Anchor Bay Season's Grievings Edition, plus over four more hours of vintage interviews, Q/A, trailers, radio spots, galleries, alternate title sequences and two scenes with new vocal tracks - this thing is massive. 


This release also features a sleeve of reversible artwork with the original one sheet artwork and a new illustration by artist Joel Robinson, which is good, but if I am being honest here the Season's Grievings Edition Blu-ray artwork from artist Gary Pullin blows this one away, I might have to keep that version just for the artwork, the collector's booklet and cool slipcover, otherwise the Scream Factory version is the new definitive version of this holiday slasher classic. The only real dig I have on this release is the condition of the mono audio track, but when stacked up against the superior image quality and sheer amount of cool extras I do think that I can live with it. 

Update! It turns out that Scream Factory are offering a replacement program to address the mono audio issues on disc one of this release: Here's the statement from Scream Factory and the info: 


"We will be offering a replacement (Disc 1 only) of our Blu-ray release of BLACK CHRISTMAS which will include the original mono audio track as it was presented on prior releases of the film on DVD and Blu-ray.


Instructions to receive this replacement disc are as follows:


Send an email to our customer service department @ info@shoutfactory.com 

Please include “BLACK CHRISTMAS REPLACEMENT PROGRAM” in the subject line. Please provide your first and last name and the mailing address in which you would like the disc sent to. No other copy is needed. Must provide proof of purchase (photo of receipt or online order will do) in the body of the email.

You will not receive a shipment confirmation. Also, please note that due to the high volume of inquires we will not be able to respond to each email personally.


Replacement discs are expected to ship in January 2017 and as soon as we receive them. No tracking numbers will be assigned.


We’d like to also take this time to address the fans that brought this to our attention and explain more in detail as to why our mono audio track for Black Christmas sounded so rough. Unfortunately, we were not able to find a mag track, only an optical track, which is not an ideal source for this kind of work. However, based on earlier customer feedback who hoped for lossless mono audio, we decided to include the mono audio track with minimal processing and compression. The was a decision made with the best of intentions and the hope of providing the most authentic film presentation, but the hissy sibilance of the optical track proved to be too extreme and took away from the viewing experience. We’re sorry for the frustration it may have caused. We have explored all options to correct the problem that fit within our resources and have concluded that the best solution was to use the mono audio track originally released on the Critical Mass DVD.


Much thanks for your patience and continued support. And we look forward to bringing you more great retro films in 2017. 


Customer Service

Shout! Factory
2034 Armacost Ave., 1st Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90025

info@shoutfactory.com"


Special Features:


DISC 1:

- NEW 2016 2K scan of the negative (1.85:1) – DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
- Audio Commentary with director Bob Clark
- Audio Commentary with actors John Saxon and Keir Dullea
- Audio Commentary with Billy (actor Nick Mancuso)
- Audio interview with director Bob Clark

DISC 2:

- 2006 Critical Mass HD Master (1.78:1) – DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- NEW Film and Furs – Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle (26 Min) 
- NEW Victims and Virgins – Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin (27 min) 
- Black Christmas Legacy (40 min)  
- 40th Anniversary Panel at FanExpo 2014 featuring John Saxon, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin and Nick Mancuso (18 min)  
- On Screen!: Black Christmas featurette (49 min) 
- 12 Days of Black Christmas featurette (20 min) 
- Black Christmas Revisited featurette (36 min) 
- Archival Interviews with Olivia Hussey (17 min), Art Hindle (23 Min), Margot Kidder (23 Min), Bob Clark (25 min), and John Saxon (13 min)
- Midnight Screening Q&A with Bob Clark, John Saxon and Carl Zittrer (21 mins) 
- Two scenes with a new vocal soundtrack (3 min) 
- Original Theatrical Trailers (English and French)(9 min) 
- Original TV and Radio Spots (3 min) 
- Alternative Title Sequences (3 min) 
- Still Gallery (5 min) (55 Images) 

Black Christmas (1974) has simply never looked better on Blu-ray, this is the definitive version of the movie, aside from the unfortunate mono track on disc one, but I am pleased to see that Scream Factory have stepped-up and are addressing the audio issues with a replacement program for disc one. So buy this with confidence, this is the version you've been waiting for, this is the version of Bob Clark "other" Christmas classic has long deserved. 5/5


Saturday, December 10, 2016

DREAMSCAPE (1984) (Blu-ray Review)

DREAMSCAPE (1984) 
Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Duration: 99 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround, DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Joseph Rubin
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Kate Capshaw, Eddie Albert, David Patrick Kelly, George Wendt


Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid, Innerspace) is a psychic-wunderkind who at the age of nineteen was a participant in a scientific research project headed Dr. Paul Novotny (Max Von Sydow, The Exorcist) until he dropped out and disappeared. Now in his twenties he seems to have been using his psychic-gift to win at the horse track. Thinking about it now, I am unsure how that works, being a psychic is one thing, but knowing the outcome of a horse race in sounds more like clairvoyance to me, but whatever, I'll agree not to over-think it, and just go with it.  

Anyway, Alex ends up running afoul of a local thug named Snead (Redmond Gleeson) and his pair of henchmen who want in on his track-action. In an effort to avoid them he accepts an invitation by is former mentor Dr. Novotny to participate in a brand new research program, one now funded by a dark arm of the U.S. government, embodied by the cold-menace Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer, Murder By Decree). The new program is designed to allow gifted psychics to link minds with sleeping patients who have been experiencing sleep disorders, such as horrific nightmares. The combination of psychic powers and science enables the psychics to become part of the dream and to help them address the root cause of the problem. Alex doesn't seem that keen to join in on the program but is smitten by the attractive scientist Dr. Jane DeVries (Kate Capshaw), and the alternative involves being beat to a pulp by the thugs. Devries and Alex have good chemistry together, there's a spark but she keep a professional distance from him, for a while any, until the dream-rape, but we'll get to that. 


The dream sequences are pretty creepy, hyper realistic and surreal, some are downright frightening, some are silly, such as a middle-aged man suffering from a fear that his wife is cheating on him. When Alex enters his dream the two sneak into the couple's home and find the too-hot-for-him wife cheating on him with his own brother, and under the bed they find more men still, including the stereotypical 80s Japanese gardener complete with a groan-inducing Japanese music cue, ugh, the 80s.

Alex befriends a young boy at the institute who is suffering from horrific nightmares so intense that when another psychic entered his dreams to help he was stricken catatonic, we learn that dreams have real life and death consequences, if you die in your dreams you die in reality, an idea that A Nightmare On Elm Street, which released just a few months after this hit the cinema, would explore even further. Feeling confident of his dream-link prowess Alex volunteers to enter the boys dreams, and whoa nelly is it horrific, a snake headed man that was pure nightmare fuel to me as a kid, it still has some intrinsic fright about it even now. Alex and the kid barely make it out of the dream intact, but Alex does help him, and he next takes aim at entering the the dreams of sexy Dr. DeVries. Inside her mind he seduces her in what amounts to a bit of dream-rape, even though it's not actually rape, he did enter her dreams without her permission, which is a bit weird but not too weird for PG-13, oh the eighties, I miss you. 


At some point Alex makes a brief acquaintance of a book writer named Charlie Prince (George Wendt) at a local bar, the author warns him that Blair is using the research center to create an army of dream assassins, and sure enough, it turns out to be true. Poor Wendt is there and gone in just a few moments, just long enough to plant the seeds of conspiracy, then he's shot dead. His warning turn true soon enough when we realize that Blair is friends with the President, played by Eddie Albert (Escape to witch Mountain), who has been suffering from debilitating nuclear apocalypse nightmares, and big bad Blair fears that these anti-nuke nightmares are leading toward a path of nuclear disarmament and perhaps a defunding of his own black ops, which he cannot allow. To this end he enlists the help of Novotny and his team of dream warriors to aid the President, however, Blair has ulterior motives, a new recruit at the lab, the psychotic Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly, The Warriors, Twin Peaks),is meant to assassinate the President in his dreams while at the lab, and it's up to Alex to stop him. 

I love the concept of this movie, it was first of many that would tackle dreams, from A Nightmare on Elm Street on through to Inception, these movies owe a tip of that hat to Dreamscape. The hyper realistic dreams are fun stuff, as are the nightmare fuel within, we have glowing-eyed nuclear fallout dogs, a killer with finger-knives (hmm, sound familiar?), glowing nun chucks, post-apocalyptic subway tunnels, the dreaded snakeman, and surreal glowing environs that are creepy and weird. Created using dated optical effects, claymation, matte paintings and garish 80s lighting, this is just fun stuff. 


Plummer and Von Sydow play wonderfully off each other, both actors are legendary in their own right and they do a lot with what was probably not much on paper. Future Mrs. Steven Spielberg, the sweater-rocking Kate Capshaw, and Dennis Quaid have good on-screen chemistry, with Quaid's character coming off as a likable scammer, while Capshaw is a more refined buttoned-down type, they make for a good coupling. The real fun here though is actor David Patrick Kelly as the killer-psychic Tommy, who adopts the snakeman viage at some point during a nightmare in an effort to unhinge Alex, he's a great scuzzy character with some deep-seated daddy issues, while he's not quite chewing up the scenery he's certainly licking it little awkwardly, he gets under your skin.

Glad to see this one get the deluxe treatment from Scream Factory, it's a bit of an under seen gem of the 80s, a PG-13 sci-fi horror adventure with creepy visuals that deserves to be seen by a new generation of kids, this is a good gateway horror watch. Sure, some of the dated optical effects might not come off as effective as they once did, but the heart of the movies is solid, this is fun stuff.  

Audio/Video: Dreamscape (1984) arrives on single-disc Collector's Edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory with a freshly minted 2K scan, looking the best it ever has on home video. I never did buy the 2010 Blu-ray from Image, but I have the Image DVD and this is a damn sight nicer all the way around. The image is crisper, the blacks are blacker and there looks to have been a nice clean-up of the dirt and debris that was more noticeable on previous versions of the movie, even some of the optical effects look cleaner. Pleasingly the film grain is left intact and nicely resolved, Scream Factory did some good work reinvigorating this 80s cult-classic

Audio options on the disc include both DTS-HD 5.1 ad 2.0 mizes with the surround option winning the day this time around with some decent use of the surrounds and more depth in general, the dated Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia) synth score still sounds a bit jarring at times, but the score, dialogue and effects are nicely balanced and clean. 


Onto the extras we have a full plate of fan-fuel beginning with an audio commentary with Bruce Cohn Curtis, David Loughery And Craig Reardon, the snakeman test footage, a trailer and an image gallery. I think all this stuff was on the previous Blu-ray. The new stuff begins with a 15 min interview with Dennis Quaid who just seems like a cool guy, reflecting on his work in the movie and his co-stars like Capshaw, Eddie Albert and Plummer. There's a new hour long doc about the movie with new interviews from Director Joseph Ruben, Co-Writer David Loughery, Actor David Patrick Kelly, cinematographer Brian Tufano, editor Richard Halsey, and members of the special effects team including James Aupperle, James Belohovek, Susan Turner, Kevin Kutchaver, Peter Kuran, and Craig Reardon. Truly an in-depth look at all facets of the film, this is a treasure trove of information about the production and fans will be quite pleased. 

The special effects team get their own featurette with 23-min “Nightmares and Dreamsnakes” as Ruben, Russell, Loughery and Reardon wax nostalgic on creating the dated but still impressive visual effects of the movie, including Reardon voicing his disdain for how his magnificent snake man creature was shot. It's hard to argue because when you see the test footage of the snakeman it is in my opinion better than what we see in the finished movie. The last of the new features is a 23-min in-depth conversation with Producer Bruce Cohn Curtis And Co-Writer/Producer Chuck Russell who speak about the project coming together, crafting the script being somewhat annoyed with the synth score and their first movie together, the porno film Chatterbox, which was one of the first porns I ever saw at way too young of an age.  

As a Collector's Edition from Scream Factory we also get a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring a new illustration by artist Paul Shipper which is featured on both the sleeve and the slipcover, the reverse side of the sleeve is the original Drew Struzan artwork, which while cool looks a bit too much like an action adventure film along the lines of Indiana Jones, not that the new illustration does much better at capturing the essence of the movie, this movie was never marketed right. 

Special Features:
- NEW 2K Scan of the Film
- NEW “The Actor’s Journey” - Interview with Dennis Quaid (15 Min) 
- NEW “Dreamscapes and Dreammakers” Retrospective (62 Min) including Brand-new interviews with Director Joseph Ruben, Co-Writer David Loughery, Actor David Patrick Kelly and other members of the special effects team
- NEW “Nightmares and Dreamsnakes” – Looking Back at the Snakeman with Craig Reardon, David Patrick Kelley and others. (23 Min)
- NEW In-Depth Conversation Between Bruce Cohn Curtis And Co-Writer/Producer Chuck Russell (24 Min) 
- Audio Commentary With Bruce Cohn Curtis, David Loughery And Craig Reardon
- Snake Man Test Footage (2 Min) 
- Still Gallery (3 Min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Min) 

This movie was nightmare fuel for me when I caught in on cable in '85 or '86 and it haunted by dreams for a while after. Watching it now the movie is a bit dated and goofy, but the thing was ahead of its time and while the movie overreached what it could actually deliver it still makes for a fun, nostalgic 80s sci-fi horror trip. The new Collector's Edition from Scream Factory looks and sounds great, a worthy Collector's Edition that should please fans, the movie has never looked better on home video, and is loaded with a wealth of cool extras.