Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Retro Santa Slasher SECRET SANTA (2016) comes to DVD on December 13th from Wild Eye Releasing

SECRET SANTA (2016)

Wild Eye Releasing has announced the December 13th DVD and Digital HD release for Mike McMurran's debut feature, Secret Santa.  Coming ho-ho-home in time for the holidays, Secret Santa is a bloodsoaked love letter to classic holiday horror and slasher films from the 1970s and 80s.  

Secret Santa tells the story of a group of eccentric college kids, struggling to get through the hectic exam period. A liquor-filled Christmas party is planned to ease the stress. They plan to toast the end of the semester with a Secret Santa exchange. Little do they know, a killer is in town and has a special present for all the girls and boys.  Will they dare to open their presents.




The DVD release of Secret Santa will include a feature-length commentary with writer-director Mike McMurran and a behind the scenes documentary.


James Herbert's THE SURVIVOR (1981) arrives on Blu-ray from Severin Films in January

US distributor Severin Films are bringing the Aussie produced supernatural thriller THE SURVIVOR (1981) to Blu-ray with a new 2K scan and some cool new and vintage extras, alway a good thing to see more Ozploitation in HD! I own this on DVD as part of the 4-disc Aussie Horror Collection Vol. 2 boxset from Elite Entertainment - I am looking forward to upgrading and checking out those extras, which includes extended interviews with Producer Antony I. Ginnane and Cinematographer John Seale from the Not quite Hollywood doc. 

THE SURVIVOR (1981) 

Severin Films joins the Mile High Club with the January 10th release of Aussie spook show THE SURVIVOR, directed by British film icon David Hemmings (BLOW-UP, DEEP RED). This high-altitude thriller comes packed with bonus features, and has been transferred in 2k HD for the first time ever! Soar to new heights of fright with the film Time Out says, “Delivers on the shocks!”.


When a 747 crash lands in a Sydney suburb – a still-spectacular sequence that helped make this the most expensive Australian film of its time – the inferno kills everyone on board except the pilot (Robert Powell of JESUS OF NAZARETH and TOMMY) who emerges from the wreckage miraculously unscathed. But as a local psychic (Jenny Agutter of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) begins to communicate with the spirits of the doomed passengers, it will unlock a nightmare of madness, murder and supernatural horror. Hollywood legend Joseph Cotten – in his final film performance – co-stars in this shocker produced by Ozploitation maverick Antony I. Ginnane (THIRST, PATRICK, TURKEY SHOOT), featuring haunting cinematography by Academy Award® winner John Seale (THE ENGLISH PATIENT, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD).











SPECIAL FEATURES:

- Not Quite Hollywood - Extended Interviews with Producer Antony I. Ginnane and Cinematographer John Seale
- The Legacy of James Herbert - Original Featurette
- Robert Powell on James Herbert
- Archive TV Special on Location - Featuring interviews with Stars Joseph Cotten and Peter Sumner
- Archive TV Interviews with David Hemmings and Robert Powell
- Antony I. Ginnane Trailer Reel
- TV Spot
- Extended Final Scene

Saturday, November 26, 2016

BUBBA HO-TEP (2002) (Blu-ray Review)

BUBBA HO-TEP (2002) 

Label: Scream Factory

Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 93 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0, 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Don Coscarelli
Cast: Bob Ivy, Bruce Campbell, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Ossie Davis


In the surreal and dementia-riddled world of Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) we have Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness) starring as the elderly Sebastian Half, a former Elvis impersonator who fell off stage and broke a hip, having fallen into a lengthy coma he awakens bed-ridden at the Shady Rest Retirement Home, a dreary sort of place where the old folk go to die. Now aged and decrepit, and with a cancerous growth on his pecker, Half insists that he is the real Elvis Presley, who at some point in the 70s traded places with Sebastian Half, who was a humdinger of an Elvis impersonator, unfortunately he also had a hunger for drugs and died on the an undignified death on the toilet. All of this is told with a knockout combo of flashback and voice-over narration, and it's a kicker, complete with some groovy hip-shaking and with an explanation why Elvis did not reveal himself after the imposter's death.


Elvis seems mostly immobile at first, but once his long suffering roommate expires he befriends an elderly black gentleman played by actor Ossie Davis, who much like Elvis insists that he is not who he seems. He details how he is really former President John F. Kennedy, having actually survived the assassination attempt in Dallas, he a there was a plot against him, that part of his brain was replaced with a bag of sand, and they dyed his skin black so no one would believe his story. Point if fact, I choose to believe that he's a bit of a nut, but that Campbell's character is actually Elvis. 

Already this is a weird set-up, you possibly have an elderly Elvis and a dyed-black JFK whom have wound up at the same rest home in rural Texas, which is already a bit hard to chew on. Enter into the equation a ancient soul-sucking Egyptian mummy whom we come to know as Bubba Ho-Tep, so named by Elvis. This mummy feeds on the fading life-force of the elderly at the rest home, his soul-sucking begins with the death of an elderly woman who at the start of the film steals candies and assorted small trinkets from the other oldsters at the home, including swiping a pair of eyeglasses from a woman in iron-lung, what a bitch, so much for sentimentality for the old folks. Not to worry, she gets her comeuppance when she is attacked by a vicious scarab beetle, followed by a proper soul-sucking from our Bubba Ho-Tep, who has the strange proclivity of sucking souls straight from his victim's anus!

Elvis and black JFK team-up to sleuth the origins of this Egyptian menace, finding out just how an ancient Egyptian King wound up in rural Texas. They decide they're not just gonna lay down and wait for this soul-sucking mummy to drain their life essence from their asses, nope, they're gonna get up off their asses and face the supernatural being head-on in a battle to the death. 



Bubba Ho-Tep is a movie that delightfully defies any sort of standard categorization, on the surface this is a whacky horror comedy, but it is also a buddy movie about a pair of aging weirdoes, who come together to face a life-threatening menace, in the process they seem to find friendship and a renewed vigor for life. Beneath the bat-shit crazy premise lies a sweet character piece, with Campbell turning in his finest performance to date, his and David make for quite a pair in this supernatural slice of weirdness from the King of Weird, Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, John Dies at The End.)

Perhaps even more weird than the surreal and ridiculous premise of the movie is the appearance of actor and civil rights legend Ossie Davis (Do the Right Thing) as the black JFK, much like Campbell he infuses his character with more warmth and depth than what was probably on the page, he is the heart of the story. Campbell's crusty and curmudgeonly Elvis is far and away the best thing he has ever done, if you're a fan of Campbell's work you need to see this, it s unlike anything he has done before or since, superb stuff, by the end of the movie I didn't see Campbell beneath the make-up, I only saw old man Elvis, and it is awesome. . 

Audio/Video: Bubba Ho-Tep arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory, and it has been a long wait for this one to arrive in HD here in the US - there's a now OOP French Blu-ray, but this is the first time it has been on Blu-ray here in the US. Scream Factory do not advertise this as a new 2K scan of the film elements so I would assume that this is the same HD master as used for that French release, though I have no concrete info on that. The image looks good, not spectacular, with the grain being a bit rough at times, it's not the most crisp image but the colors look good, skin tones appear natural and the lack levels are pretty decent, which is good because a lot of this film is low-lit and dark. Overall a very nice upgrade that probably could have been better with a new HD master had been struck by Scream Factory. That being said I was very pleased with the image upgrade over the 2002 DVD from MGM. 

Audio options on the disc come by way of both English DTS-HD MA 2.0 and 5.1 mixes, the surround offers some fun use of the surrounds but does tend to be front-centric, the Brian Tyler score sound great, his guitar-based score is atmospheric with just the right amount of twang, it really adds a lot to the atmosphere of the movie with it's melancholy overtones. 



Onto the extras scream Factory have ported over all the extras from the 2002 MGM 2-disc DVD, including that great commentary with Campbell in character as the King! They've also added a few new Red Shirt Pictures produced bonus features, beginning with a brand new audio commentary from author Joe R. Lansdale who wrote the original short story, new interviews with Director Don Coscarelli and Actor Bruce Campbell, plus a third with Special Effects Artist Robert Kurtzman. 

The commentary with Lansdale is moderated by Michael Felsher who keeps it going at a nice fu pace with the author speaking not just about the source material and the movie by comparison, but about his career. He has a great good old boy drawl about him, it makes for easy listening, and there's never a dull moment. The new interviews with Coscarelli and Campbell are great, they've each had over a decade to reflect on the making of the movie since 2002 and looking back on it they offer some fun conversation, including both going into why the sequel Bubba Nosferatu has yet to happen, hopefully someday it will, but probably not with Campbell's participation. The single disc release arrives in a standard blue keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork and a slipcover, not a fan of the new illustration but a huge fan of everything else. 

Special Features: 

- NEW Audio Commentary With Author Joe R. Lansdale
- NEW All Is Well – An Interview With Writer/Director Don Coscarelli
- NEW The King Lives! – An Interview With Star Bruce Campbell (22 Mins) HD 
- NEW Mummies And Make-up – An Interview With Special Effects Artist Robert Kurtzman (9 Mins) HD 
- Audio Commentary By Don Coscarelli And Bruce Campbell
- Audio Commentary By "The King"
- Deleted Scenes With Optional Commentary By Don Coscarelli And Bruce Campbell (3 Mins) HD 
- "The Making Of Bubba Ho-Tep" Featurette (24 Mins) HD 
- "To Make A Mummy" Make-up And Effects Featurette (5 Mins) HD 
- "Fit For A King" Elvis Costuming Featurette (7 Mins) HD 
- "Rock Like An Egyptian" Featurette About The Music Of Bubba Ho-Tep (13 Mins) HD 
- Joe R. Lansdale Reads From Bubba Ho-Tep (8 Mins) HD 
- Footage from the Temple Room Floor (2 Mins) HD 
- Archival Bruce Campbell Interviews (35 Mins) HD 
- Music Video (2 Mins) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins) HD 
- TV Spot (1 Min) HD 
- Still Gallery (50 Images) HD

The new disc from Scream Factory is the definitive version of this weird cult-classic, a movie that seems to utterly ridiculous on paper but Ossie Davis and Bruce Campbell infuse their characters with more poignant melancholy and pathos than would seem possible, and they nail it. This strange buddy movie is a winner, and Campbell's performance is his strongest and most affecting to date, acting through that elderly Elvis make-up like a champ, and the end result is nothing less than fucking awesome, this comes highly recommended. What's more, Coscarelli and Lansdale have give us a chance to see the King go out on top, not on the toilet, and that's mighty cool.    

TIME AFTER TIME (1979) (Blu-ray Review)

TIME AFTER TIME (1979)
Label: Warner Archive
Rating: PG
Duration: 112 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1) 
Cast:   Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen, Charles Cioffi, Kent Williams, Andonia Katsaros, Patti D'Arbanville
Director: Nicholas Meyer

Synopsis: London 1893 is home to a killer with a macabre nickname.and also to a visionary genius who would write The Time Machine. But what if H.G. Wells' invention wasn't fiction? And what if Jack the Ripper escaped capture, fleeing his own time to take refuge in ours - with Wells himself in pursuit?


From writer/director Nicholas Meyer, Time After Time is a marvelous entertainment of shivery suspense and sly social comment. In modern-day San Francisco, the Ripper (David Warner) finds our violent age to his liking. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) dislikes the brave new world of fast food and television, far from the utopia he envisioned. But he is cheered by the emancipation of women, particularly one irresistible banker (Mary Steenburgen). For mystery, romance and excitement, Time After Time is time well spent.


Time After Time opens in 1893 London with a deeply fog-shrouded Ripper sequence, with the dapper Victorian murderer approaching a lady of the evening for a what she believes to be a quick cash for gash transaction, however, it ends with her literally being ripped open by the infamous murderer who then flees the scenes with the police sounding the alarm. Soon after we find ourselves at the home of writer Herbert George Wells (Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange) who has gathered an array of dinner guest to announce his new invention, a time machine. Late to the dinner is a surgeon named John Leslie Stevenson (David Warner, Waxwork) who does eventually shows up. With everyone gathered the author/inventor invites his guests to the basement where he reveals to them in fine detail just how the time machine works, including a "non-return" key that proves integral to the story, a sort of homing beacon which allows the machine to return to its original point of origin in time. Of course the guests think that this is a bunch of poppycock but are nonetheless wowed by his machine. with Stevenson being the most intrigued by the invention. 

Soon after the police arrive at the scene in search of the Ripper, they're doing house by house search of the area, while making their way through the house they find Stevenson's surgical bag with incriminating evidence inside, a pair of bloody gloves, but somehow he seems to have slipped past the authorities and escaped the house. Wells realizes that his friend Stevenson is not only the infamous Jack the Ripper but that he has made his escape through the use of his time machine, with the author and inventor fearing he's unleashed a madman upon what he theorizes to be the Utopian society of the future, boy is he in for a shock. 

However, a short time later the time machine returns without Stevenson, owing to the fact that he did not have the aforementioned non-return key, which is in Wells possession. Wells gathers what valuables and money he can on short notice and hops into the time machine, setting the date for 1979, which is where Stevenson travelled to, in a naive effort to capture and return him to his own time to face charges for his hideous crimes. 

Truly, the time-travel sequence is a bit old-fashioned and quaint by today's standards for optical effects, with a series of disorienting flashing lights, it sort of feel like a less accomplished version of the 2001: A Space Odyssey time and space trip, but I like it still, it has a certain vintage charm about it that I love. Wells arrives in 1979, not in London, but in San Francisco! The move in location owing to the fact that in 1979 the time machine is part of a H.G. Wells display at a museum in San Francisco. 

He arrives a bit disoriented, first spotted by a young Corey Feldman, playing a kid at the museum with his mother, which is just a nice piece of trivia. From here we get a fun fish-out-of-time story with the awkward and inquisitive Wells tracking down his former friend The Ripper in modern day San Francisco. Of course he is bewildered by the inventions of the modern day, with the advent of motorized cars, women's liberation, phones, fast food and a violent history of World Wars. it seems this future is not the utopia the inventor has envisioned! Wells deduces that much like himself the Ripper would have had to trade-in his British currency for American dollars, to this end he visits numerous banks, eventually getting a lead as to the whereabouts of Stevenson from a foreign currency banker named Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen, Dead Of Winter) who immediately takes a liking to Wells and his overly polite peculiarities and Victorian moustache. Together the two embark on a time-crossed romance, while Wells pursues the nefarious Stevenson, though at times it does seem the search fro the Ripper takes a backseat to the budding romance. 

Eventually Wells catches up to Stevenson at a hotel, the two have a great dialogue exchange while watching modern day atrocities on the TV, with the Ripper explaining that "Ninety years ago I was a freak. Today I'm an amateur.", that he is more suited to the modern day than Wells himself, which is certainly true. There's a lot of humor peppered throughout the movie, most of it concerning Wells and his difficulties adapting to modern life, a problem which Stevenson does not have, he in fact is decked out in modern (awful denim)fashions, meanwhile Wells stays garbed in his deerstalker hat and outdated dapper tweed suit. When Wells refuses to hand over the "non-return" key to Stevenson the murderer hatches a plan to kidnap Amy to force Wells to hand over the key, which would prohibit anyone from following Stevenson through time. 

I've always loved time travel movies, and I also have a fondness for Jack the Ripper lore, and this is one of my favorites of the bunch. I love the mash-up of the storylines, the blending of the Victorian author and the murderous menace, and it still hold up well today. Malcolm McDowell is great as usual, his shy and inquisitive Wells is in stark contrast to his more menacing roles I best remember him for, surprisingly he makes an effective  romantic lead, and he plays well off the menace of David Warner's Ripper, plus Mary Steenburgen offers a nice naive but liberated love interest for him, she's always idiosyncratic in her roles, and I love her here. I've always been a fan, even her recent turn as a wine-sipping alcoholic in the post-apocalyptic comedy Last Man On Earth.  

Nicholas Meyer's film is a bit slow-paced by modern thriller standards but it is never dull, I love the fish out of water storyline, the time-hopping escapades and the genre mash-up of time travelling and Victorian thriller. Anyone familiar with director Meyer's work knows he has somewhat of a fascination with time-travel and Victoria thrillers, as he wrote Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and co wrote the screenplay for the underrated The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) which is a team-up of Detective Sherlock Holmes with Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, and another great watch, which along with Bob Clark's Murder By Decree (1979) are two of my favorite Holmes stories on screen.

The movie may be a touch too much on the romance side for viewers looking for a time-travelling thrill ride and Ripper gore, the time travel and gore is kept to a bare minimum, instead the story focuses on our three main characters, with the romance seemingly taking top billing over science-fiction and thriller elements, though there's a severed arm in here, but this is a largely bloodless affair. While I would not have minded more science fiction and gore the ideas and story are top-notch, and the finale is a real nail-biter. I hope this Blu-ray garners more attention for this oft overlooked gem of a genre mash-up, this is great stuff, highly recommended.  

Audio/Video: Time After Time(1979) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of the Warner Archive who sourced the new crisp 2K scan from a very nice looking interpositive, the results are pleasing. Framed in the 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio the movie looks wonderful, both the shots of Victorian London and late 70s Bay Area look great to my eyes. The London scenes showcase a lot of dark wood interiors, fine detail of the woolen suits with plenty of textures, the then modern San Francisco shots are appropriately brighter and more vivid, with nice panoramic shots of the Bay Area. The image is crisp and grain is nicely resolved, skin tones look accurate and though some of the optical effects shots look dated, such as the time travelling sequences, this is a wonderful presentation on Blu-ray.  

Audio on the single disc Blu-ray comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track with optional English subtitles, it is crisp and clear, and while not the most dynamic stereo track but it does have good fidelity, the Miklós Rózsa orchestral scores comes through nicely in the mix. 

The only extras on the disc is the theatrical trailer and an audio commentary with  Actor Malcolm McDowell and Writer/Director Nicholas Meyer, and is a carry-over from the 2002 DVD. The track is solid but a bit weird, in the early days of DVD I recall several commentaries employing the trick of stitching together separate audio tracks to give the illusion of two or more participants sitting side by side viewing the movie, giving comment as it goes along. However, this one goes the extra-weird mile and actually inserts audio bits that make it seem as though they're having a conversation. It doesn't detract from the informative commentaries, it's just a bit weird. 

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary from Actor Malcolm McDowell and Writer/Director
Nicholas Meyer

- Theatrical Trailer (3 Mins) 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Southern Gothic Slasher 'The Devil's Dolls' Available December 6th, 2016 from Scream Factory


new one on the way from the director of Rites of Spring (2011) this December from Scream Factory 

THE DEVIL'S DOLLS (2016)  

A serial killer’s curse unleashes a season of slaughter in the backwoods of Mississippi in the grisly slasher The Devil’s Dolls. Available December 6th, 2016 from Scream Factory, in conjunction with IFC Midnight, this visceral film goes beyond the typical midnight slasher, featuring an incredibly intense, tightly-paced story and character-driven Southern Gothic thrills.

According to an ancient Guatemalan tradition, parents teach their children to allay their troubles by giving them handmade “worry dolls” just before bedtime. But when several of these talismans — which once belonged to a notorious mass murderer — find their way into the hands of unsuspecting residents of a small Southern town, it sets off a grisly wave of bloodshed. The latest from Rites of Spring director Padraig Reynolds is a voodoo-slasher shocker bursting with scarily inventive kills.

MERIDIAN (1990) (Blu-ray Review)

MERIDIAN (1990) 

Label: Full Moon Features

Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 85 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1 
Director: Charles Band
Cast: Sherilyn Fenn, Malcolm Jamieson, Hilary Mason, Alex Daniels, Phil Fondacaro

In Meridian (1990) Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks) stars as Catherine Bomarzini who returns to her family's ancestral castle in Italy after the death of her father. There she reunites with her former childhood nanny, the kindly Martha (Hilary Mason, Dolls) who watches after the castle and has cared for her family for generations. What Catherine does not know is that her inherited birthright includes a secret family curse, one that promises Gothic romance and tragedy, haunting visions and some troubling date-rape by a hairy-beast! 

After arriving at the castle Catherine is joined by her art school classmate 
Gina (Charlie Spradling)who is employed in Italy doing art restoration for a local church, together they go out for a night on the town and wind up at the Fauvrey's World of Wonders carnival. The women are so impressed by the wonderment of magician  Lawrence Fauvrey (Malcolm Jamieson) that they invites him and his troupe of carnie performers back to the castle for some late-night dinner and wine. The magician seems charming and well-mannered, but his evil dwarf (Phil Fondacaro, Ghoulies 2) drugs the women's wine and the night devolves to a hallucinatory rape and orgy scene, featuring a hairy-backed beast who fornicates with the drugged Catherine. 


Afterward, despite the date-rape, Catherine maintains a weird relationship with the rape-y magician, who it turns out has a twin brother. One is good, one is evil, both are cursed, and are somehow entwined into Bomarzini family history. Soon after Catherine begins having visions of a murdered woman in white around the castle, when she tells Martha of her visions the old woman brushes it off as an old family superstition, but as the visions become stronger she reluctantly reveals that the woman she is seeing is Catherine's own aunt, who was murdered years ago by someone from the Fauvrey's World of Wonders. Ah, the date-rapey plot thickens. 

The movie promised Gothic romance along the lines of Dracula by way of Beauty and the Beast, it also promises plenty of nude Sherilyn Fenn, which it delivers to varying degrees, but the movie is a hot mess with a half-hearted script written by regular Full Moon scribe Dennis Paoli, whom in the past has done some great work with Stuart Gordon (Pit and the Pendulum, From Beyond, Re-Animator), but this cursed Gothic romance doesn't flow so well, and throwing rape into a romance is just troubling. What it does have going for it aside from an amply nude Fenn, who is stunning, is that it was lensed by cinematographer Mac Ahlberg (Hell Night, From Beyond) who gives the movie a nice sumptuous look on what was surely a shoestring budget> We also get a decent score from the talented Pino Donaggio (Carrie, Dressed to Kill), and some competent direction from Full Moon impresario Charles Band. It's not the most engaging movie you will watch this week, or maybe even today, but it has some keen Gothic elements and that peculiar Full Moon visual style that makes me nostalgic for the 90s, but like I said, the overall movie is a drawn-out romance yawner, not helping matters is the fact that the romance is triggered by a drug-induced date-rape! 


The real draw here is Sherilyn Fenn who would this same year go onto TV fame with David Lynch's Twin Peaks as the sweater-rockin' Audrey Horne, she is kind enough to bare her voluptuous top-shelf assets multiple times throughout, most notably in an extended rape-seduction scene, which was nice but the sexual politics of this things are twisted indeed, if you can get beyond that there are some cheap Gothic-tinged thrills to be had and plenty of Sherilyn Fenn in 1080p HD

The movie arrives on single-disc Blu-ray from Full Moon and is advertised as being restored from the original 35mm camera negatives. The end result is a mixed bag, it looks very nice framed in widescreen, it is a step-up in all the expected areas, however the image is a bit dark and thick at times, but this is the best the movie has looked on home video to date, it's just not the most crisp and wonderful HD image you could hope for. While advertised as being sourced from the OCN there are numerous instances of dirt, debris and slight print damage that I would typically associate as coming from a theatrical print, but I don't have any info on that other than what is advertised on the disc. That being said, I was pleased with what we have, it's not reference quality, but it beats the snot out of the previous fullframe DVD releases. Like all of Full Moon's Blu-rays up to this point they have forgone a lossless audio option and go with choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 mixes, the stereo is they way to go here, the surround mix is forced and front-centric.
Extras on the disc are limited to a vintage 5-min behind-the-scenes featurette and a selection of Full Moon trailers, including one for Meridian under the alternate title of The Ravaging. 


Thursday, November 17, 2016

DEAD RINGERS (1988) (Blu-ray Review)

DEAD RINGERS (1988) 
2-Disc Collector's Edition 

Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 115 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) I (1.66:1)
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Barbara Gordon, Geneviève Bujold, Heidi von Palleske. Jeremy Irons, Shirley Douglas, Stephen Lack

Cronenberg's Dead Ringers (1988) begins with identical twins Elliot and Beverly Mantle as youth walking the neighborhood streets of Toronto, they're having a discussion, each is fascinated by the reproductive process and to that end they approach a young neighbor girl who's sitting on her porch with the proposition of having sex in the name of science, shocked by what they've asked she tells them to kindly fuck off. Years later we catch up with the Mantle twins at medical school where they pioneer new techniques in gynecology and fertility, but their methods are met with skepticism by their professors. After graduating they open a successful clinic in Toronto that specializes in female infertility. We soon discover that the twins have developed a few weird proclivities in the years since they first propositioned that neighborhood girl for scientific-sex. 

Beverly is the more shy and inward of the twins, he's the pure science guy, the researcher. Elliot is the more outgoing, he's the public face of the clinic, the one who schmoozes with the financiers, and usually the one who gets the girl. As twins the brothers have a deep-rooted connection with each other, they are two sides of the same coin, they live in the same apartment, they share everything ...even women. 

Elliot makes a habit of bedding the more attractive women who come to the clinic with fertility issues, but he is shallow and grows weary of the women quickly, to that end he and Beverly switch places, with the shy guy stepping in for Elliot, continuing to have sex with the women, who are none the wiser, despite the fact that the twins are quite different in nature, if not in appearance. 

Enter Hollywood actress Claire Niveau who comes to the clinic in hopes of curing her infertility. The twins are fascinated when they discover that she has a "trifurcated cervix", a rare cervical mutation which prohibits her from ever having a child of her own. The actress is a bit of a weirdo, a dramatic Hollywood actress type, she's dramatic, a pill-popper with and has a healthy sex-drive, jumping into bed with suave Elliot almost immediately. Per the usual he grows tired of her and sends in his reluctant brother Bev to carry-on with her in the bedroom. 

The nicer of the pair begins to fall in love with Claire, to have genuine feelings for her, something he has never experienced before. This distraction causes a divide in the usually inseparable Mantle twins, Elliot becomes increasingly disturbed by his twins infatuation with her, while Bev himself becomes addicted to pills, spiralling into disturbing nosedive of madness, paranoia and dangerous medical delusion. 

Jeremy Irons is a wonderful actor and I think this is his best performance, the nuance he brings to the dual-role is creepy, the twins are almost identical but he infuses each one with tiny details that make them each their own subtly-different character, each has a unique facial expressions, their demeanor and the way they walk, he is full-on committed to the roles. Also figuring into the story is Elliot's assistant, the ginger-haired Cary (Heidi von Palleske), a friend with benefits who flirts with the idea of a threesome with the Mantle twins, adding yet another creepy layer to the proceedings. 

The movie is more reality based than any of Cronenberg's movies up to this point, though it is no less disturbing or weird, in fact I think this might be his weirdest film in my opinion. As poor Beverly succumbs to a cycle of drugs and depression he begins to imagine that Claire is cheating on him, he secludes himself for long periods of time, self-prescribing a maddening array of drugs, imagining that the women who come to the clinic have mutated lady bits that require him to create new and bizarre surgical tool, instruments that look like metallic clawed insect fingers, nightmare stuff. Eventually his delusions derail the clinic when he has a psychotic episode during a fertility procedure, which nearly kills a woman. As Beverly slips away Elliot comes up with an ill-fated plan to load himself up on drugs until the two are in sync once again, with tragic results. 

Cronenberg's cold and clinical style suits the material very well, more so than any of his other movies in my opinion, but Irons brings a depth of emotion to the dual role, and like I said, I think this is his finest performance, aided by some very fine motion-controlled camera work and deft use of a body double. The story is heart-wrenching, the conclusion of this one is one of the most tragic and saddening of them all, I think this one is a hidden Cronenberg classic worth seeking out. 

Audio/Video: Dead Ringers (1988) arrives on 2-disc Blu-ray from Scream Factory with two distinct viewing options, which is appropriate, right? On disc one we have the original theatrical framing in 1.78:1 widescreen, this is probably the same master as used by Warner for their 2005 DVD. Looking perfectly acceptable, but on disc two we have the good stuff, a new 2K scan of the movie done by Scream Factory and framed in the director's preferred aspect ratio of 1.66:1 widescreen leaving some slight black bars on the side of the screen, which is normal cropping for this framing, I think we also lose some slight information at the top and bottom of the screen. I don't mind the re-framing, particularly since it is the director's preferred ratio, but I like that we have both options available on the disc. 

The new 2K transfer looks superior to the theatrical framing to my eyes, skin tones look slightly warmer, grain is better managed, the image is a bit crisper, but not overly so. I was sort of surprised by the lack of depth to the image at times, this is not an eye-popper of an HD image, but it is certainly the best I have seen it look on home video. There were also moments of wobble that I noticed from time to time, not sure if these are inherent to the source or some of weird telecine wobble. 

Both versions of the movie come with choice of DTS-HD MA 2.0 or Surround 5.1 mixes, while I usually prefer the stereo mixes but I do love the surround mix, as noted earlier Cronenberg can be a bit cold and detached filmmaker at times, but Howard Shore's score along with Irons phenomenal performance give this some nice emotional weight. Audio is crisp and clean, well-balanced with some nice depth to the sound field, optional English subtitles are included on both discs.

On disc one we have the option to view the film with the original Jeremy Iron commentary from the 2006 Warner release, or with a new commentary from writer William Beard, author of The Artist As Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg who offers a detailed analysis of the movie in comparison to Cronenberg's body of work. Sadly, despite trying, Scream Factory were unable to license the director's commentary from Criterion, so hang on to that coveted out-of-print DVD (or laserdisc) if you have it. 

Onto the video extras we have four new interviews exclusive to this release, a 19-min interview with Heidi Von Palleske, a 24-min interview with actor/artists Stephen Lack, and a 19-min interview with special effects artist Gordon Smith who goes into some nice detail about how some of the effects were achieved back in the day before digital, including showing off some props not used in the final movie for various reason, he's a character and it's a fun watch. The last of the new interviews is a 13-min one with director of photography Peter Suschitzky who remembers Cronenberg as a tasteful, technical, and visionary collaborator. 

Disc two is zipped up with vintage interviews with Jeremy Irons, director/co-writer David Cronenberg, producer Marc Boyman and co-writer Norman Snider which are carry-overs from the Warner DVD. There are also a cool vintage behind-the-scenes video, and a trailer for the movie which includes footage of the motion-control process used to portray both brothers in the same shot. 

Special Features:
DISC 1 (1.78:1 version)
- NEW Audio Commentary with writer William Beard, author of The Artist As Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg
- Audio Commentary with actor Jeremy Irons
DISC 2
- NEW 2K scan at the director’s preferred aspect ratio (1.66:1)
- NEW Carey’s Story – an interviews with Heidi Von Palleske (19 mins)HD
- NEW Working Artist – an interview with Stephen Lack (24 mins)HD
- NEW Connecting Tissues – an interview with special effects artist Gordon Smith (19 mins)HD
- NEW Double Vision - an interview with director of photography Peter Suschitzky (12 mins)HD
- Vintage interviews with Jeremy Irons, director/co-writer David Cronenberg, producer Marc Boyman and co-writer Norman Snider (17 mins)HD
- Vintage Behind the Scenes Featurette (7 minutes)HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins) HD 

I had sort of forgotten what a creepy and fascinating movie Dead Ringers (1988) is, a disturbing and emotionally complex story anchored by Jeremy Irons' tour de force performance in a demanding dual role. This is a weird one - which should be no surprise to lovers of Cronenberg, I do hope that this Blu-ray brings the movie a new audience who may have missed it previously, its been hard to find for a few years now, glad to see it arrive on Blu-ray with a new 2K scan and some cool extras. Highly recommended, now can we please get Crash (1996) on Blu-ray, next? 

HANNIE CAULDER (1971) Olive Signature Edition (Blu-ray Review)

HANNIE CAULDER (1971) 
Olive Signature Edition

Label: Olive Films

Rating: R
Region Code: A
Duration: 85 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080P HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Burt Kennedy
Cast:  Raquel Welch, Robert Culp, Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin, Jack Elam, Diana Dors

Synopsis: Revenge is a loaded gun in director Burt Kennedy’s (The Train Robbers) Hannie Caulder. Raquel Welch (One Million Years B.C., 100 Rifles, and Myra Breckinridge) smolders as Hannie, a widow sworn to avenge her own brutal rape and husband’s murder at the hands of Emmett (Ernest Borgnine, The Wild Bunch), Frank (Jack Elam, Support Your Local Sheriff), and Rufus (Strother Martin, Cool Hand Luke), three of the most despicable scoundrels to have ever roamed the prairie. Eager for revenge, but lacking the gunfighter’s know-how, Hannie soon discovers new confidence and skill when bounty hunter Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice) teaches her the way of the gun. In no time, Hannie is strapping on her six shooter and setting out to put a few notches on its handle. Co-starring the legendary Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula), playing against type as a sympathetic gunsmith who befriends her, Hannie Caulder hits its target from ten paces.


Hannie Caulder is a bit of a odd western entry, a British production filmed in Spain by the predominantly horror-driven Tigon studios, directed by an American, a western that is bloody and violent, touched with weird humor, and rooted in the arguably feminist rape-revenge sub genre. The movie stars Raquel Welch as the titular character, a woman driven to the end of her rope by the desperate acts of three despicable bank-robbers, the Clemens Brothers, played with inept villainy by a trio of familiar western character actors; Frank (Jack Elam, Once Upon a Time in the West), Rufus (Strother Martin, The Wildbunch) and the "brains" behind the trio, Emmett (Ernest Borgnine, Escape from New York). At the top f the movie the Clemens rob a bank, there's a brutal and very bloody gun fight, and this is one of the most bloody westerns I think I've ever watched, and that includes the Sergio Leone stuff, we have loads of bloodshed with massive amounts of the red-stuff pouring out of bodies. 

They make-off after the robbery looking to lay low but end up at the homestead of Hannie Caulder and her husband, the desperadoes gun him down, run a train on his poor wife (Welch) and set the house on fire, laughing maniacally as they ride off and leaving her for dead. The distraught Caulder roams the desert wilderness alone for a spell wearing only a poncho, making her way to a water well where she runs into a bespectacled and bearded bounty hunter named Thomas Price (Robert Culp, The Greatest American Hero)who steals the show as the soft-spoken gunslinger tasked with teaching Hannie how to handle a six-shooter, so she can seek revenge on the men who murdered her husband and raped her. He's reluctant to teach the woman to shoot a gun, particularly after she knocks him out cold upon their first encounter. 

Eventually he comes around and begins to train her in the way of the gun, the pair make their way to Mexico where Price enlists the help of a gunsmith named Bailey, played by horror-icon Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula), in his only western film appearance. Bailey's home is located on the edge of the sea, we have a nice series of training montages as Hannie takes aim at target on the sea shore, later a group of Mexican bandits attack Bailey's home, the encounter enables Hannie to test her mettle and her new gun-skills, but she hesitates and nearly loses her life except for the assistance of Price, who afterward tells her she should abandon her quest for revenge, which she does not, of course, eventually tracking the bandits to a small town in Mexico.

Hannie Caulder is a fantastic watch, Welch is mesmerizing as the gorgeous revenger, which is a nice turn of the card for a Western, very few women were the focus of these films, and even fewer reaped any sort of decent revenge on the men who spoiled them, it was probably a novel idea at the time, when rape-revenge movies were a bit early in the cycle, too. Welch is not just a pretty face, she has some serious acting chops, conveying a complex array of emotions when called upon, but that she looks so damn fine in a poncho and hat, a very little else, doesn't hurt much either. The movie is a bit offbeat, combining a the feminist gunslinger angle with the ever-present male-gaze. While the rape is arguably more tastefully shot than most of the rape-revengers that would come, it happens mostly offscreen, the filmmakers cannot seem to pass up a chance to feature Welch's nicely shaped bottom framed in a pair of wet leather chaps, either, that along with the comical rapists makes for strange bedfellows. 

As much as I love Welch in the movie, and I do, it is TV actor Robert Culp however who stole the show, his bounty hunter is the epitome of dignified calm and cool, not someone who tosses off corny one-liners, he's a man with a purpose, a nice guy in a nasty line of business. As someone who grew up with Culp in the 80s on TV shows like The Greatest American Hero it was a revelation to see him in something so different, and he was awesome, I will definitely have to seek out more of his film work. 

The movie has two stories that converge, we have Hannie's story while she trains to be a gunslinger with Price, and we also follow the inept exploits of the Clemens Brothers, who are scoundrels but also a bit on the brainless side, offering some offbeat comic relief as they rob banks, at one point using way too much explosive and blowing up all the money in the safe, the teaming up of Elam, Martin and Borgnine is inspired, even if their onscreen menace is cut with an over abundance of Three Stooges type tomfoolery, which seems a strange choice for a rape-revenger.

The scenery looks real familiar, these westerns that were filmed in Spain used a lot of the same old dusty locations and sets, which I didn't mind, the arid vistas and dusty trails look great, and this is a nice looking western, perhaps not on par with some of the tastier Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci classics, but still and great looking movie with some nice panoramic lensing. This might not be an Italian spaghetti western but that is absolutely what they're aiming for, right down to the Sergio Leone esque main title credit sequence, though I wish the score by Ken Thorn was more up to the task, as it stands it has a few evocative pieces but perhaps I am just spoiled by the memory of the classic Morricone scores, by comparison this one is sort of weak. 

Audio/Video: Burt Kennedy's western rape-revenger Hannie Caulder arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films as one of their newly launched Olive Signature editions presented in 2.35 scope aspect ratio in 1080p HD with a what is being called a new digital restoration. The source used for the digital restoration look very nice, with only the very faintest of wear and tear, the grain is nicely managed but does appear a bit thick at times, which  is not a negative in my opinion, this doesn't look like it's been put through any eyesore-degraining process, I like my westerns with some grit and grain and this Blu-ray delivers. As this was my first watch of the movie I have no basis for comparison but I found this to be a pleasant 1080p view, skin tones looked natural, the old west colors are a bit muted by design, but the oft seen swathes of blood are vivid and overall the image is nicely detailed and appropriately crisp without the aid of artificial sharpening tools. without actually knowing I think this is sourced from a print, and not the original camera negative, which might explain some of the thick grain in a few shots. 

The lone audio track on the disc is a DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 option which sounds good, everything is nicely balanced and crisp, there's no audio distortion I could detect and the Ken Thorn (Superman II, III)score comes through with some nice buoyancy, optional English subtitles are provided.  


As part of the Olive Signature Series Olive have seen fit to offer up a nice selection of extras beginning with an audio commentary from Repo Man director Alex Cox who is a spaghetti western expert, it is a good listen with loads of information about the locations, the cast and crew and how the movie stacks up against other Westerns of the era.  


There are also a handful of interviews, including a 13-min interview with film scholar Ben Sher who speaks about the rape/revenge aspect of the movie, how it fits into the sub-genre, a 21-min interview with Sir Christopher Frayling on the history of Tigon Studios who produced the movie, and how this rape-revenge western is a bit of an odd duck for them. Lastly we have film critic Kim Morgan's essay "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" in text-format on the disc and as part of the 8-page booklet which accompanies this release. As part of the Olive Signature series the disc comes in a clear Blu-ray case with a two-sided sleeve of artwork, a nice thick card stock slipcase and an 8-page booklet with movie stills and poster artwork, and of the artwork I really liked the attractive peach Melba toned scheme they chose for this release, it stands out in a good way on the shelf. 


Special Features:

- New High-Definition digital restoration
- Audio commentary by Western expert and director Alex Cox (Walker, Repo Man)
"Exploitation or Redemption?" - an examination of rape-revenge movies with film scholar Ben Sher (13 Mins)HD 
- "Win or Lose: Tigon Pictures and the Making of Hannie Caulder" - interview with Sir Christopher Frayling on the history of Tigon Studios (21 Mins) HD 
- "Sympathy For Lady Vengeance" - Essay by film critic Miriam Bale

I loved watching Hannie Caulder (1971), Raquel Welch is quite good as the revenge-driven main character who looks great in a poncho and wet leathers, the movie is also bolstered by a enigmatic turn from TV actor Robert Culp as the kind-hearted bounty hunter who aids her on her journey. The new release from Olive Films looks and sounds great, has some cool extras and is a worthy addition to your collection if you have a fondness for westerns with a rape-revenge bent.