Sunday, December 31, 2017

HELL NIGHT (1981) (Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review)

2-Disc Collector's Edition  

Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 101 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MAMono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 

Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Tom DeSimone
Cast: Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten, Peter Barton, 

The Tom DeSimone (Reform School Girls) directed Gothic-slasher Hell Night (1981) was one of those horror titles on VHS that beckoned you in with that amazing illustrated artwork of Linda Blair's busty character clutching those iron bars, a look of terror on her face, her mouth agape with a silent scream, it was the sort of Gothic image that gave you goosebumps by day and nightmares by night, at least it did for me. The flick received a a DVD release from Anchor Bay back in 2002, it went out of print fairly quickly, and was fetching steep prices on eBay which kept it out of grasp until 2013 when I found a minty used copy at a DVD Exchange in San Antonio, Texas while on a business trip, it was only $7 and I was getting the sweats with anticipation as I walked to the counter for a fast purchase, feeling that I had really got one over on them, yes, the joys of movie collecting. That was the last U.S. home video release of the film on digital, right up until Scream Factory announced this 2-disc Collector's Edition sporting a 4K restoration and loads of extras.

The movie has a very simple storyline, we have Peter, the president of the Alpha Sigma Rho fraternity who every year initiates new pledges by having them stay the night at the eerie Garth Manor, where they have to stay locked away behind the iron gates until daybreak. The pace has been vacant for the past twelve year, ever since the former owner Raymond Garth murdered his wife and three deformed kids before hanging himself. The four pledges this year are slightly uptight Marti (Linda Blair, Chained Heat), nice guy Jeff (Peter Barton, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), fun girl Denise (Suki Goodwin), and surfer dude Seth (Vincent Van Patten, Rock 'N' Roll High School). The foursome are escorted to the mansion with some collegiate fanfare before being locked in for the night. They couples pair off quickly with Seth and Denise almost immediately heading to the first bedroom they can find for a quick and fun hook-up while Marti and Seth get friendly in a decidedly more chaste sort of way in front of the living room fireplace, which couldn't have been easy for Seth, that revealing bodice worn by Marti is the perfect showcase for two of prime-era Linda Blair's top-shelf assets, but he plays nice, but the two definitely have chemistry. 

Under the cover of darkness Alpha Sigma Rho president Peter (Kevin Brophy, Time Walker) and his girlfriend May (Jenny Neumann, Stage Fright), plus frat-brother Scott (Jimmy Sturtevan) show up to put some fright into the pledges night, having rigged the home with pranks and pre-recorded screams, with Marti seeing the spooky projected image of what she believes to be the ghost of the murderous patriarch Raymond Garth, and Seth is started by some canned-screams. 

The three roof-top pranksters are killed off in fairly short order by an unseen killer who doesn't seem too pleased to have visitors on the sprawling estate, soon enough we have someones head  twisted all the way around by the neck-snapping brute, while poor May is decapitated with an ax after being dragged into a tunnel. When Peter discovers his dead friend he makes a good run for it but is cut-down with a scythe in the mansions hedge maze - all good stuff, maybe not particularly gore-heavy but certainly heavy on the Gothic atmosphere and well-staged kills.

Pretty soon our four formerly oblivious  pledges get in on the murder-fun when one of them is discovered decapitated and a panic ensues as they fret over what to do next, with one of them attempting to climb over the high iron gates that surround the mansion, which is tipped with razor sharp points. The rest of the group come under attack and discover a series of tunnels beneath the mansion, which they unwisely descend into (bad idea)while contending with a deformed, hulking killer.

Hell Night came out at the height of the slasher cycle, 1981 was a heck of year for the genre giving us The Burning, Friday the 13th Pt. 2, My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday To Me and The Prowler just to name a few choice cuts. However, this one doesn't go for the grisly over-the-top bloodletting, instead we get some fun characters who are actually cool people, even the frat guys aren't evil douche bags, everyone tries to do the sensible thing for the most part - though there are exceptions, going down that tunnel was just a bad idea, and while I commend one of them who managed to escape to find help, he chose to do the right thing and returns by himself when the local police fail to believe his story is anything but a fraternity prank, but I would not have returned myself, sorry friends you're shit-out-of-luck tonight! The film has some great Gothic atmosphere throughout, on the mansion grounds, down in the tunnels and main house are a great set-pieces, the fact that all the characters have just come from a frat costume party means they're in period costumes, highlighted by Blair's choice bosom-blossoming bodice, further pushing the Gothic tones. The premise is very simple, and it works great, while some would say this is slow I say it's a slow-boiler, leading to a frenzied final terror-spree that has always worked for me. Something else that works for me is the playful sexuality of Suki Goodwin as party-girl Denise, who was just gone too soon for my taste! Another winner of an idea is the killer, a hulking simpleton, a remnant of the doomed Garth family, a bit along the lines of the island-shocker Humongous (1982) with just a twist of the backwoods-slasher Just Before Dawn (1981). Hell Night is a top-tier Gothic-tinged slasher, oozing atmosphere and spilling over with ample charms of Linda Blair, essential stuff, this is a top 20 slasher for me.     

Audio/Video: Hell Night (1981) arrives on 2-disc collector's edition Blu-ray/DVD from Scream Factory in 1080p HD framed in 1.85:1 widescreen. Before we get onto the disc review here's a disclaimer from Scream Factory in regard to their 4K restoration, just to set the stage: 

"A Note About Our New 4K Scan:  We did an extensive search for the original film elements, but were unable to locate them. Therefore, this new transfer comes from a 4K scan of the best surviving archival 35mm film print of Hell Night. We did extensive color correction and film restoration to clean up any film damage. Because the print was missing some minor footage, so we have inserted a small amount of standard definition footage to deliver the complete film. We hope you enjoy this new restoration of this ‘80s horror classic."

Well, there you have it, Scream Factory have been very upfront about this 4K restoration is not being sourced from the original negative or an even interpsoitive source, it's a scan from a 35mm theatrical print, so go into this with some tempered expectations about the picture quality. It's my understanding that there's only so much you can do as far as color correction from an actual print, so there's gonna be a lot less fine detail than one would hope for from a modern HD presentation, but I am assuming the Scream did their due diligence and looked for a better source, but this is what they found, and what they have to offer - like it or lump it.  So what happened to the original vault elements for the movie? Legend has it that the rights owners defaulted on payment to the facility that housed the orginal negative, the facility sold the elements at auction and they have not been heard from since, if you know different please let me know, I'd be keen to know what the real story is. You should also know that the theatrical print they found was incomplete and they had to resort to adding in standard definition inserts to make this as complete as possible.

So now that we have that out of the way, how's the damn thing look? With tempered expectation I was  pleased with what I saw, it has debris, there's print damage and a prevailing softness/darkness about it, but the colors are decent, but it's not crisp at all, a deficit  perhaps bolstered by the 80's soft focus cinematography. Some scenes are fairly grainy while others looks like perhaps a bit too much DNR had been applied to specific scenes, but it's not across-the-board digitally scrubbed by any means. The worst offenses would be some green emulsion scratches that mar a few scenes, and when the standard definition inserts show up they do not blend well, not so much that the color correction is off (it is) or that the quality dips (it does), but that the frames do not align seamlessly, the transitions from HD to SD are jarring, but not so much so that it was ruinous for me, but annoying.    Overall I think this is a decent upgrade from the long OOP Anchor Bay DVD as far as extras go, Scream Factory did the best they could with the inferior elements they had to work with, and I for one am pleased with it. I will say that I am in no hurry to trade in my Hell Night Anchor Bay DVD though, honestly I like the colors more on the DVD, the theatrical print is soft and the colors are thin in spots, I am curious what source AB used for their DVD back in 1999. 
The sole audio option is an English language DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 with optional English subtitles. Dialogue, the Dan Wyman (Without Warning) score and effects are well-mixed, it's not gonna give your 7.1 surround any sort of work out, but it's free of distortion and pops.

This 2-disc release comes housed in a standard 2-tray Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the classic illustration on the a-side and a killer new illustration from Scream Factory regular Justin Osbourn, both featuring the "Pray For Day" tagline, I loved it, amps up the Gothic feel of the film and keeps Blair's bust line front and center, the discs themselves features excerpts from both artworks. 

Special Features:
- NEW 4K Scan Of The Film Taken From The Best Surviving Archival Print

- NEW Interview with Linda Blair: The Beauty of Horror (35 min) HD  
- NEW Interview With Director Tom DeSimone: Hell Nights With Tom De Simone (27 min) HD
- NEW Interview with Peter Barton: Facing Fear (21 min) HD
- NEW Interview With Producer Bruce Cohn Curtis: Producing Hell With Bruce Cohn Curtis (14 min) HD
- NEW Interview With Writer Randolph Feldman: Writing Hell (26 min) HD
- NEW Vincent Van Patten and Suki Goodwin In Conversation (27 min) HD
- NEW Kevin Brophy and Jenny Neumann In Conversation (23 min) HD
- NEW – Anatomy Of The Death Scenes With Tom DeSimone, Randolph Feldman, Make-up Artist Pam Peitzman, Art Director Steven G. Legler, And Special Effects Artist John Eggett (22 min) HD
- NEW – On Location At The Kimberly Crest House With Tom DeSimone (7 min) HD
- NEW – Gothic Design In Hell Night With Steven G. Legler (21 min) HD 

- Original Theatrical Trailer  (3 min) HD

- TV Spots (1 min) 
- Original Radio Spot (1 min) HD 
- Photo Gallery Featuring Rare, Never-before-seen Stills (9 min) HD 

What's not to love about Hell Night (1981)? It's an atmospheric Gothic-tinged slasher starring Linda Blair in her sweet-sweet prime, we get a fun frat-prank set-up, some good kills and an electrifying-frightful finale. The new Collector's Edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory is an upgrade over the Anchor Bay DVD and has loads of great extras - this sucker is stacked, and despite the PQ not being up to snuff I commend Scream Factory for finally bringing this beast to Blu-ray and stacking it to the tippy-top.

INCEPTION (2010) (4K-BD-Digital Review)

Label: Warner Bros.
Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 148 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 4K 2160p Widescreen (2.40:1), 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1) 
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine

Synopsis: Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a skilled thief, the absolute best in the dangerous art of extraction, stealing valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious, during the dream state when the mind is at its most vulnerable. Cobb's rare ability has made him a coveted player in this treacherous new world of corporate espionage, but it has also made him an international fugitive and cost him everything he has ever loved.

In Christopher Nolan's Inception (2010) we have Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper) as dream-spies, hi-tech thieves who enter a person's subconscious through their dream, creating multi-layered dream worlds through which they steal trade secretes and information, a form of dream-espionage. At the start of the film they are tasked by Japanese billionaire Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe, Godzilla)to not steal something but to do something never before achieved, to plant an organic thought/idea into a dreamer's head without them realizing it has been implanted. The target is Saito's dying business rival's son, his sole heir Robert Michael Fischer (Cillian Murphy, 28 Days Later), hoping to plant the idea that he should break-up his father's vast business empire after his father's death. If Cobb succeeds Mr. Saito is offering to use his vast influence to make a murder charge against Cobb disappear, allowing him to re-enter the U.S. and see his two young children.

Agreeing to take on the challenge Cobb assembles a dream-team to assist him and Arthur for this highly-complex reverse-heist. The team includes a con man Eames (Tom Hardy, Bronson), a chemist Yusuf (Dileep Rao, Drag Me To Hell), and architect Ariadne (Ellen Page, Juno). The decide the best opportunity for a shared dream with Fisher is during a ten-hour flight as the son accompanies his late father's body home after his death, and the plan is set in motion. 

The reality-bending excursion is fraught with in-dream dangers, including the possibility of falling into a subconscious limbo-Hell if you die in the dream, which could threaten your sanity, and Cobb's subconscious manifestation of his late wife Mal (Marion Cotillard, A Very Long Engagement) who the threatens to derail the whole deal with her violent actions fueled by Cobb's deep-guilt over her death, which is at the heart of the story.

Nolan crafts a great series of dream-heists, ending up being a spy thriller along the lines of a 007 film by way of the reality-bending film along the lines of The Matrix, rooted in a labyrinth of intrigue and visual wonder - this is one of his Noaln's sprawling and action-packed films, a dizzying array of multi-layered dreams, including brilliant car chases and a 007-worthy snow covered mountaintop assault, a stunning zero gravity fight in a hotel hallway/room, as well as exploring Cobb's heart-rendering loss of his wife, it's all so good, there's never a dull moment and it holds up to repeat viewings.

The cast of phenomenal, there's not a bad apple in the bunch, most of the cast was either in the first two of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy or would go onto appear in the third, the exceptions being DiCaprio, who is charismatic as ever, Dileep Rao as the chemist, and Ellen Page, who  does good work as the dream-architect recruited by Cobb to create the dream-worlds, she sort of our "in", we learn as she does about how the whole thing works.  

Audio/Video: Inception arrives on 4K UHD from Warner Bros. in 2160p HD framed in 2.40:1 widescreen. The image looks crisp and finely detailed, the close-ups offer pore-defining sharpness. The 4K presentation does show some minor softness in it's presentation compared to other 4K titles I've watched, including both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, but I was still suitably impressed, offering a nice upgrade from he Blu-ray but not quite as stunning as other 4K titles I've screened. Audio comes by way of the same DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 audio track that accompanied the Blu-ray, because Nolan chooses not to go the Dolby Atmos route for any of his titles, but the track is powerful and offers many surround delights throughout, the deep, bass-driven score from Hans Zimmer is an immersive stunner, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Onto the extras we have the picture-in-picture Extraction Mode on the Blu-ray disc accompanying the feature, the other extras are relegated to their own Blu-ray disc.  

Special Features:
- Extraction Mode
- Behind The Story
- Project Somnacin: Confidential Files
- 5.1 Inception Soundtrack
- Conceptual Art Gallery
- Promotional Art Archive
- Trailers
- TV Spots 

Inception (2010) gets a very nice 4K upgrade from WB, revisiting it in ultra-HD was a wonderful viewing experience, it certainly holds up as one of Nolan's most ambitious and mind-bending films to date, and that's saying something. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1976) (Umbrella Blu-ray Review)


Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: Region FREE
Rating: PG
Duration: 90 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Kevin Connor 
Cast: Doug McClure, John McEnery, Keith Barron, Susan Penhaligon, Anthony Ainley and Declan Mulholland.

This Amicus/AIP co-production of the 1924 Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel of the same title is set during WWI, opening with a German U-Boat commanded by Captain von Schoenvorts (John McEnery, Schizo) torpedoing a British passenger ship, the only survivors are American Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure, Humanoids from the Deep) and his British lady friend  Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon, Patrick), British officer Bradley (Keith Barron, Nothing But the Night) and a handful of British soldiers, who are all gathered together on a small life boat. Floating through a fog bank Tyler sees the U-Boat that sunk them surfacing and rallies the soldiers to make a move, fighting the crewman who emerge from the German sub and taking control of it, hoping to sail it to a British port. However, devious German officer Dietz (Anthony Ainley, The Blood on Satan's Claw) is none to thrilled about losing control of the ship and immediately sets about sabotaging the radio and compass, making it difficult to navigate, and when the sub comes under fire from a British warship the crew have no choice but to dive and retreat, becoming hopelessly lost and running low fuel, eventually finding their way to a mysterious land mass that they theorize to be the lost continent of Caprona. The place is surrounded by huge icebergs and ice sheets, the sub submerges once again and travels under the ice sheet, emerging in a lagoon that reveals a place of natural wonder, a lush jungle populated by anachronistic dinosaurs and a race of primitive people.  

Discovering that there's crude oil on the island the Germans and British crews call a truce, working together to build a primitive oil refinery from which they can produce fuel for the sub, and escape the newfound  lost world. The trip to the island takes about half the film so there's a lot of turmoil within the sub as control is volleyed about, but once they get to Caprona things pick-up considerably, as we are treated to a plethora of Roger Dicken (Scars of Dracula, Alien) created dino-puppets, not made through Harryhausen-style stop-motion but through the use of highly detailed puppets, which look cool if a bit plastic and stiff at times, occasionally you can spot a wire or two supporting one of the winged-creatures as they attack and carry off some poor soul, but overall I dig it.  I prefer the old-style Harryhausen stop-motion creations but the Plesiosaurus and Styracosaurus are undeniably cool, in fact when the Plesiosaurus is boiling to death in a super-heated lake I felt pretty bad for it as a kid. We also get some fun miniature work, a lot of the sub scenes are done with miniature, including a fiery volcanic finale with loads of smoke, fire and red lighting - it all looked great. It might be a tiny bit dated but I have a lot of nostalgia for vintage special effects, I prefer it to the uncanny valley of modern digital FX, I know they're cheesy, but I just love 'em. 

Audio/Video: The Land That Time Forgot (1976) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment in 1080p HD, framed in 1.85:1 widescreen. Not sure of the source of the HD master here but it look good, the source shows some minor wear, white speckling mostly and some tiny scratches, but overall very nice. There's some modest depth happening here once we emerge from the dark confines of the U-boat and onto the island, the dinos and island vistas offer up some nice texture with decent contrast. Audio comes by was of an English language DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 track, perfectly fine without any hiss or distortion of note, the score from Douglas Gamley (The Beast Must Die) benefits the most from the lossless audio option.

Unfortunately this release is absolutely barebones, there are no extras, not even a trailer or a start-up menu. The single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in the usual over-sized 16mm spine keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original key-art with the reverse side features a variant of the same key artwork minus the rating label. 

Oh wait a minute! After rewatching this post-review I was toggling through the audio and found that there's a hidden/unadvertised commentary with director Kevin Connor moderated by Brian Trenchard-Smith, carried over from the Kino Lorber release, it's a great track and a welcome extra! 

I am an unabashed fan of these semi-cheesy vintage action/adventure/creature features, I like the kitschy patina they've acquired with age, they capture a special magic that once you get a whiff of as a kid it just stays with you, the same way that the aroma of cinnamon triggers memories of grandma baking apple pies in the kitchen, yup, just like that ...and maybe your grandma didn't make the best apple pies, but the memory is still warm and fuzzy.

ORCA: THE KILLER WHALE (1977) (Umbrella Blu-ray Review)


Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: Region Free
Rating: M
Duration: 92 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1, DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Michael Anderson 
Cast: Bo Derek, Charlotte Rampling, Richard Harris, Will Simpson, Keenan Wynn, Robert Carradine 

Orca: The Killer Whale (1977) is a film I watched on late-night cable as a young boy, I was mesmerized by it in fact, I had already watched Jaws (1975) several times, but the concept of a Jaws knock-off was a bit foreign to me, this was just another killer "fish" movie, and it was a killer whale, not a great white shark, the two movies couldn't be more different *wink wink*. It would be years before I would discover what "jawsploitation" was, a wonderful little sub genre of Jaws knock-off films that came out, and continue coming, all these years later, spurred by the game-changing success of the Spielberg classic film, and just to confirm it, one of the best movies ever made.  Italian Producer extordinaire Dino De Laurentis being the smart man that he was saw an opportunity to cash-in on the original and enlisted the aid of producer Luciano Vincenzoni to find a sea-best even more fearsome than the great white shark, it was he who thought up the idea of using an orca. The film is directed by Michael Anderson (Logan's Run), written by Sergio Donati (Once Upon a Time in the West) with a score from none other than Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), which is just an impressive cinema-pedigree behind the camera by any standard.

The film opens with - what else - a great white shark stalking a diver beneath the waves, a scientist named Ken (Robert Carradine, Revenge of the Nerds), who funnily swims and hides beneath a rock outcropping on the ocean floor to hide from the approaching shark, attempting to pull a large rock over the entrance to keep the shark out. The way the film is edited it seems when he drops the rock it catches the ear of the shark who comes in closer to investigate, too funny. Nearby Captain Nolan (Richard Harris, A Man Called Horse) sees the fin of the great white circling the area, he makes a living capturing live specimens for the local aquarium and takes aim at the predator, but an Orca arrives on scene and destroys the shark, saving the scientist but angering Nolan to a large degree, he vents his anger on the scientist and his associate Dr. Rachel Bedford (Charlotte Rampling, The Night Porter). The encounter with the orca however spurs him to seek out a killer whale, which is sure to nab a hefty price from the aquarium. Tracking the orcas he takes aim at one but misses it, instead harpooning it's mate, which turns out the a pregnant female. What happens next is equal parts harrowing and hilarious, the preggers orca attempts to kill itself, hurling itself at the boat's spinning propellers, slicing it open and making a bloody mess - the water runs red. Eventually the crew hoist her up out of the water on a winch,  where she miscarries and the malformed orca falls onto the deck of the ship, to the horror of everyone, particularly the Nolan - who we later learn lost a child and loved one in an accident. The scene is heightened by the fact that the orca's mate is observing this from the water and screams - I shit you not - it straight up screams at the horror of it all! 

The grieving orca follows the ship, ramming in in an attempt to free it's mate, when the ship is threatened by the aggressive orca Nolan and his crew cut the orca free, but crewman Novak (Keenan Wynn, Herbie Rides Again)is snatched by the orca when it leaps out of the water, dragged to his death. The crew return to port but the maddened orca follows them, wreaking havoc on the small fishing community, first sinking several ships by ramming them while they're tied up, then setting the pier on fire (this orca is an arsonist!), and destroying Nolan's seaside home, even biting off the leg of Nolan's most attractive crew member, young Annie (Bo Derek, 10). I tell you what, the super-intelligent sharks of Deep Blue See (1999) have nothing on this damn orca!

It soon becomes evident that the orca has a personal vendetta against Nolan, it wants to face him on the open sea, man to sea-faring mammal, and so Nolan along with Dr. Rachel Bedford and her associate Ken,  the lone remaining crew member Paul (Peter Hooten, The Inglourious Batards),  and an indigenous local named Jacob Umilak (Will Sampson, Poltergeist II) set out to area where Nolan first harpooned the preggers orca for a final epic showdown. 

The movie must certainly sound silly, and it is, but I have to say that I have always loved it, I recognize the inherent silliness of certain scenes and the leaps of logic, but I am also struck by the how much depth it has, for both the orca and the people hunting it, much of this no doubt being bolstered by a wonderfully evocative, sometimes mournful score, from composer Ennio Morricone (Cinema Paradiso). The orca leads them out to see, towards a frozen area known as the Strait of Belle Isle, it picks off the crew one by one until just Nolan and Bedford are left, pushing an iceberg into the ship, which begins to sink, forcing the pair to leave the boat for an the relative safety of an iceberg, leading to the final climactic moments out on the ice. 

The special effects for this one are decent, there are a few ropey opticals, but they really nail the mixing of live-action orcas and rubber/mechanical ones I thought. The use of miniatures are well done, the sinking of Nolan's home and the setting of the pier on fire are particularly well-executed, and I loved the ice bound setting of the finale with frozen ice sheets and icebergs, plus the rubber orca fetus that drops onto the deck of the ship is shocking to say the least. 

The cast is great, Richard Harris  makes for a great Irish-Canadian Captain Ahab out to settle the score with his Moby Orca, he's wonderfully obsessed and in-tune with his own doomed destiny. He's not heartless, he feels remorse for the killing of the pregnant female, but he's obsessed to the nth degree, and dragging his crew to certain death. The steely-eyed Charlotte Rampling (Zardoz) has a nice presence, a sympathetic character who offers some pro-orca sympathies to the stubborn captain, she does good work here, and also serves as the narrator of the story.

The film is certainly a slice of jawsploitation but it never really rips off any specific scene from the movie, it does it's own thing, there are echoes of Spielberg's classic, such as Nolan standing on the  pulpit of his ship readying his harpoon gun, or that the beast this time around is an Orca - the name of Quint's boat from Jaws, or just the fact that they feature a great white shark at the beginning that is killed by the orca, which is a nice little swipe at Jaws. 

Orca (1977) arrives on Region-FREE Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment - though it is erroneously labeled as a Region B locked item - in 1080p HD framed in 2.35:1 scope aspect ratio. There's no information about the provenance of the HD master but it looks quite nice to my eyes, the ocean vistas are crisp and film like, good clarity and depth to the image. There's some very minor wear and tear, we have some white speckling and scratches are, but nothing too bothersome. Audio comes by way of lossless (yes, lossless!) DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 and Mono 2.0 with Optional English subtitles. This sucker has a fairly great score from Ennio Morricone so I am very pleased that Umbrella went with the lossless audio this time around if only to deepen the fidelity of the score. Dialogue and effects are nicely balanced, everything sound nicely crisp and natural sounding. 

Extras on ths disc include an audio commentary from film historian Lee Gambin which I found jam-packed with information about the film, which was great, loads of production info about the making of the film, the cast and crew and the locations used in making the movie. 
Martha De Laurentiis  shows up for a brief 5-minute remembrance of the film and we get a trailer for the film in HD.   

This single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in a 16mm spine Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, the reverse side features a variant of the same key artwork minus the rating label. They use the original movie poster artwork, with the landscape framed image wrapping around to the back of the keepcase, very cool. The disc itself features an excerpt of the same image, when the disc is placed in the case it matches the reverse side of the artwork.  

Special Features

- Audio commentary by film historian Lee Gambin
- MOBY DICK ala DE LAURENTIIS: Martha De Laurentiis remembers ORCA (5 min) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (3 MIN) HD

Orca (1977) is a film that gets lumped in with some of the cheesier jaws rip-offs, which is unfortunate, it's a fun flick with a semi-grand scale, epic scenery, and serious talent both in front and behind the camera, it all adds up to a fun watch with a few strange and gruesome detours, but still a heck of an eco-horror entry with a fun Moby Dick role-reversal.

    CANNONBALL RUN II (1984) (Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray Review)


    Label: Umbrella Entertainment
    Region Code: Region-Free
    Rating: PG
    Duration: 108 Minutes 
    Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
    Video:  1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
    Director: Hal Needham
    Cast: Burt Reynolds, Dean Martin, Dom DeLuise, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Chan, Sammy Davis Jr., Shirley MacLaine

    Growing up in the 80's I had a real love for the all-star formula comedies of the era, gathering together large ensemble casts for farce and larks was just good fun, from the scavenger hunt movie to the road-trip races there were plenty of formulaic farces to love and Cannoball Run was one of my youthful favorites, anytime it was airing on TV I would throw myself onto the couch and give it a spin. This sequel is a lot of fun, stuntman turned director Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit) got the band back together minus the considerable charms of Sir Roger Moore (Moonraker), but this is more or less a repeat of the first film, we begin with Sheik Abdul ben Falafel (Jamie Farr, Clinger from M*A*S*H) who lost the first race being forced by his by his father (Ricardo Montalban, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan) to hold another Cannonball Run, and the teams of racers assemble once again and make their way across the U.S. in hopes of winning the big prize money - there's really nothing more to it than that!

    JJ Mclure (Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights) and Victor (Dom DeLuise, Blazing Saddles) return, since the first film they've been working as part of a aerial stunt crew, including a hair-raising human missile gag we get to witness go awry just before they disguise themselves as military men and join in on the race, along the way hooking up with a pair of women disguised as nuns, Betty (Marilu Henner, TV's Taxi) and Veronica (Shirley MacLaine, Two Mules for Sister Sara), who believe the military men are about to become wealthy after overhearing a conversation out of context.

    Rat Packers Blake (Dean Martin) and Fenderbaum (Sammy Davis Jr.) show up, this time on the run from mobster Don Don Canneloni (Charles Nelson Reilly, Rock-a-Doodle), who sends his enforcers after them, the enforcers include The Godfather alum Alex Rocco, Abe Vigoda and Michael V. Gazzo in addition to Henry Silvia (Probability Zero). Meanwhile Don Don is in deep with another mobster, Hymie Kaplan (Telly Savalas, Lisa and the Devil).

    Other entrants in the race include "two great-looking chicks", that being Jill Rivers (Susan Anton, TV's Baywatch) and Marcie Thatcher (Catherine Bach, TV's Dukes of Hazard) the latter of whom while not wearing her signature Daisy Duke cut-off shorts is still a tall-order of sexiness. We also get Jackie Chan (Drunken Master), teamed up with 007 villain Richard Kiel (The Spy Who Loved Me) in a hi-tech Mitsubishi Starion that can levitate! Oh yeah, there's also a orangutan that loves to pretend to drive cars and flip old ladies the bird, what's not to love? 

    Sure, the story is fairly rote, it's a carbon copy of the first film which was threadbare in the story department, but on the plus side we have lots 70/80's of celebrities crammed into this one in various cars making fools of themselves and clearly having a cocaine-fueled (I'm assuming) blast. 

    Audio/Video: Cannonball Run II (1984) arrives on region-FREE Blu-ray from Australia's Umbrella Entertainment in 1080p HD framed at 1.78:1 widescreen, looking to be dated from an older HD master the image is somewhat soft and lacks the depth that a newer HD master might have provided, but the source looks to be in good shape with only some minor white speckling. Colors are nicely saturated and the black levels look good. The only audio option is a lossy Dolby Digital stereo track with optional English subtitles, it does the job just fine, everything comes through clean and well-balanced, I just miss the fidelity boost we could have gotten with a lossless audio option. 

    The disc is barebones, there are no extras - not even a trailer for the movie - not even a start-up menu for this one. The single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in the usual over-sized 16mm spine Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original key-art by iconic movie poster illustrator Drew Struzan, the reverse side features a variant of the same key artwork minus the rating label. Also, good news, this release is region-free! 

    If you're a fan of 80's comedies, scavenger hunt movies like Rat Race (2001) or just fun road race movies like The Gumball Rally (1969) there's a lot to enjoy about this Cannonball Run entry, it's just a fun 80's screwball comedy. 

    BEYOND THE SEVENTH DOOR (1987) (Intervision DVD Review)


    Label: Intervision Picture Corp
    Region Code: 1 NTSC 
    Rating: Unrated
    Duration: 77 Minutes
    Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 
    Video: Fullscreen (1.33:1) 
    Director: B.D. Benedict
    Cast: Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman, Ben Kerr 

    From the bottom shelf VHS scroungers at Intervision we have a strange Canadian thriller right here, the cover art had me hoping for some mind-melting Lucio Fucli-esque SOV weirdness, but this is not that sort of movie. It opens with Boris (Lazar Rockwood) being released from prison, having been sent to the big house after a botched robbery. He takes a nice long walk in the snow, visiting the shores of what looks like an ocean but might very well be Lake Ontario. Afterward he goes to a diner where he meets his ex-girlfriend Wendy (Bonnie Beck) who is none to pleased to see him, they argue for a bit while discussing the botched robbery that sent him to prison, for which she seemingly bares some blame. He manages to convince her to assist him in robbing her current employer, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), a wheelchair bound millionaire who forces her to dress in skimpy maid outfits and is very hands-on apparently.

    Local legend has it that Breston keeps a treasure in the basement of hos mansion, so to that end the duo go to the mansion and sneak in the back door, they make their way to the lower end of the mansion and using a stolen key they gain access to a door, only to find it locks behind them. A speaker kicks on and the recorded voice of Lord Breston informing them that they have entered his home in an attempt to steal what belongs to him, now they have to face a series of puzzles/challenges in a series of six rooms, if they can solve the various puzzles and survive the traps in each room they will be rewarded with a treasure, and given the option to enter a seventh room! 

    The movie is surprisingly brisk in it's paced, as the film plays out the trapped duo face each of the six rooms/challenges, these are lo-fi but sort of cool, pre-dating both Cube (1997) and Saw (2004) as a puzzle-box movie. The challenges includes solving the combination lock on a vault door, word puzzles using lettered tiles on a floor, a room armed with moving walls, another with a descending spiked ceiling, and a trapped doors and a room that fills with water.

    For ninety-nine percent of the movie we just follow these two around the puzzle room, and let me just say that our guy Lazar Rockwood, who plays Boris, has such a rad name, he totally sounds like he should be fronting a Faster Pussycat cover band in a dive bar on a Tuesday afternoon at 4PM. Originally from Yugoslavia the guy has a very distinct look, falling somewhere between a n even more emaciated Billy Drago and a crackhead version of Joey Belladonna from metallers Anthrax, with the same sort of mullet hair. He's a chain smoking nicotine fiend, but he has a certain charm, an inept career criminal but somehow not unlikable, with the stilted/exaggerated line delivery of  Tommy Wiseau of The Room (2003) - he's just a special sort of guy. Bonnie Beck (City on Panic) is good as the other half of the duo, the red head is cute and has charms, she even some decent acting chops.

    The movie breezes by, which is actually quite a feat for a lo-fi SOV film, even the strangest and weirdest/greatest of these lo-fi 80's shot-on-video films seems to drag but this one flew by at just 77-minutes. Perhaps straying from horror and being more of a thriller helped it in that respect. Even though it's low budget and cheap as Hell you can see that the director has some artier leanings, managing to create some claustrophobic atmosphere in the confined spaces, there's even a fun synth rock theme. The movie certainly has some quirks, the decision to get-it-on after a near drowning/hypothermia situation being just one, and a twist that begs more questions that caps of the movie being another, but these are just part of the inept charm of Beyond the Seventh Door.    

    Audio/Video: Beyond the Seventh Door (1987) arrives on DVD for the very first time ever from Severin imprint Intervision Picture Corp, framed in 1.33:1 full screen, which is the original aspect ratio. The lo-fi film looks to be SOV, or at least shot on 16mm film and edited on tape, the full frame presentation is murky and looks like the VHS presentation that it is beneath that digital encode, it's not gonna look great but this is probably the best the movie will ever look on home video. Audio comes by way of an English Dolby Digital mono presentation, there are no subtitles, but for the most part everything is discernible and not too offensive.

    Onto the extras we get  Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of that is packed with quite a bit of information about the director, how the film came about, and the various locations used in the film and how certain traps were achieved on the low-budget movie. 

    There are also 22-minutes worth of interview with the director and star, with the director discussing his Christian beliefs and alternate career writing Yugoslavian religious thrillers, and it looks like he currently works at a movie theater, the interview seems to be conducted while he's cleaning up around the cinema. Lazar shows up and dispenses some acting knowledge on us. There's also a nine-minute tribute to The King of Cayenne, the Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr  who shows up in the film as a corpse, with local personalities and artists paying tribute to the late legend, who apparently had an affinity for cayenne infused cocktail beverages.  

    Special Features:
    - Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (
    - Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and’s Paul Corupe (22 min)
    - The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr (9 min)

    Beyond the Seventh Door (1987) is a weird Canadian thriller, sadly there's no horror to be found here, but it is a strangely compelling and ambitious movie in a low-rent sort of way. That they made it somehow work using what looks to be the same sparse basement sets to create the puzzle rooms is commendable, but it's Lazar Rockwood who will keep you coming back for a second helping. If you're one of those weirdos that likes to seek out strange/amateur lo-fi movies from the 80's and you haven't watched this one yet head on over to and pick this up, you will definitely be disappointed, but then you're gonna make all your friends watch it too, and that's it's own twisted reward. 

      Thursday, December 28, 2017

      THE DEVIL'S RAIN (1975) (Severin Blu-ray Review)

      THE DEVIL'S RAIN (1975) 
      Label: Severin Films
      Region Code: Region-Free
      Rating: Unrated
      Duration: 86 Minutes
      Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
      Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.39:1) 
      Director: Robert Fuest
      Cast: William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine, Eddie Albert, Keenan Wynn, Tom Skerritt, Ida Lupino, John Travolta

      I first caught up with this Satanic panic drive-in classic when it was released by Dark Sky Films back in 2006 on DVD, it totally caught be surprise, a cool little slice of satanic cinema with an all-star 70's cast and directed by Robert Fuest, a wonderful director who brought us The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), not to mention the involvement of Anton Lavey, the founder of the Church of Satan!

      It all begins on a rainy night with Mark Preston (Star Trek's William Shatner) and his mother (Ida Lupino, The Food of the Gods) waiting for his father to return home, when he does he has no eyes and begins melting into a multi-colored glob of goo! Mark's mom is later kidnapped by a local Satanic cult led by Jonathon Corbis (Ernest Borgnine, Escape from New York)who wants a satanic tome that the Preston family has kept hidden away for years, it would grant the cult-leader favor with Beelzebub and make him all-powerful!

      When Mark himself becomes ensnared by the cult his younger brother Tom (Tom Skerrit, M*A*S*H) comes to his aid, along with his wife Julie (Joan Prather, Big Bad Mama) and occult expert Dr. Richards, played by Eddie Albert of TV's Green Acres. Working against the group are the local sheriff played by Keenan Wynn (Piranha) who is in tight with the Satanist, including a very young John Travolta in his first movie, though it is a small role.

      The satanic thrills come fast and furious in this briskly paced drive-in b-movie classic, aided by some very goopy and surprisingly grotesque special effects from Tom Burman  (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and crew, including Borgnine being transformed into a horned, goat-headed manifestation of evil, who also gets his own goopy transformation. There's also a cool scene where Shatner is rendered eyeless, the make-up effects look quite a bit like the mask from Halloween (1978) which modeled after a Shatner/Captain Kirk Star Trek mask, I thought was pretty nifty. This one has always suffered a bit from a plot that seems to evaporate a bit, I always get list, not in the complicated plot, but in the lack of a clear one, but that's never deterred me from partaking in the satanic fun, plus we get some cool atmospheric and creepy cinematography from Álex Phillips Jr. (Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia). 

      Audio/Video: The Devil's Rain (1975) arrives on Blu-ray from Severin Films, the new HD restoration (from an non-specific source) looks very nice, there's a nice but inconsistent layer of film grain, details aren't overly abundant and the image can be soft, but overall this is a nice upgrade compared to by 2006 DVD, even with a few unsightly emulsion scratches. Audio comes by way of an English language DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 track with optional English subtitles. The audio is clean and crisp, I wouldn't say the mix was overly dynamic by any means but it does the job.

      Onto the extras Severin have grabbed the devil by the horns with this one, offering up a plethora of extras, beginning with a director's commentary ported over from the 2006 Dark Sky release. Then onto the new stuff, brand new interviews with the cast and crew, including an 11-min chat with Skerritt who spins a tale of how he got started in the business, originally wanting to be a director, scoring a few writing gigs and his early career, making this movie and laughing quite a bit when asked about the involvement of Anton Lavey, which he seems to find mildly amusing. FX artist Tom Burman shows up for a brief 5-min interview discussing the goopy effects created for the film and how the melting people were achieved, it's cool.  

      Well established Script Supervisor Ana Maria Quintana (Blade Runner, Jurassic Park) speaks about landing her first job as a script supervisor on this very film by pretty much conning her way into it, and also being bilingual helped, as the film was shot in Mexico with a Mexican crew and with an English director and an American cast. 

      The Church of Satan gets some representation on two featurettes, one with the current High Priest and High Priestess of the Church of Satan speaking about Lavey's involvement on the film, plus LaVey Biographer Blanche Barton, speaking about her relationship with the Lavey, and his time on the film with the cast. There's also a vintage '75 interview with Shatner who speaks about the possibility of a Star Trek movie opportunity, and if that was something he'd be interested in, and what that might mean for his career... he made a wise move accepting the eventual offer! Another very cool extra is an interview with director/actor Daniel Roebuck (River's Edge) who showcases his vintage horror collection while detailing his own trip to the drive-in with his mom to see The Devil's Rain, and what his mom did for him to secure a prize at the screening, fun stuff. The disc is finished up with a theatrical trailer, TV spots and a poster and still gallery.    

      This single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with  sleeve of reversible artwork, which looks awesome on both sides, I believe the a-side is the original movie poster, with a cool variant on the b-side. 

      Special Features:
      - Audio Commentary With Director Robert Fuest
      - Confessions Of Tom - Interview With Actor Tom Skerritt (11 min) HD
      - The Devil's Makeup - Interview With Special FX Artist Tom Burman (5 min) HD 
      - 1975 Archive Interview With Actor William Shatner (4 min) HD 
      - First Stop Durango - Interview With Script Supervisor Ana Maria Quintana (15 min) HD 
      - Consulting with the Devil - A Conversation with the High Priest and High Priestess of the Church of Satan (10 min) HD 
      - Hail Satan! - Interview With Anton LaVey Biographer Blanche Barton (8 min) HD 
      - Filmmaker / Horror Collector Daniel Roebuck On The Devil's Rain (11 min) HD 
      - On Set Polaroid Gallery Of Script Supervisor Ana Maria Quintana Accompanied By Radio Spots (8 min) HD 
      - Theatrical Trailer (3 min) HD
      - TV Spots (2 min) HD 
      - Poster/Still Gallery(8 min) HD 

      The Devil's Rain (1975) is a fun slice of evil 70's cinema, it's not the strongest story but the performances are good and the special effects are surprisingly gooey, which is what makes this so memorable, trust me, it ain't the story! This would make a fun hail-Satan triple-feature with The Brotherhood of Satan (1971) and Race with the Devil (1975) or a fun Borgnine scenery-chewing triple play with Willard (1971) and Deadly Blessing (1981).  I never really thought I needed to upgrade my old DVD of this one, but watching this Severin Blu-ray I can say that the A/V upgrade is very nice and the plentiful extras actually make the movie more enjoyable.