Thursday, March 23, 2017

THE CREEPING GARDEN (2014) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: Arrow Academy

Region Code: Region-FREE 
Rating: Exempt
Duration: 81 Minutes 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Audio: English LPCM Stereo 2.0 with Optional English SDH 
Director: Tim Grabham, Jasper Sharp
Cast: Mark Pagnell, Heather Barnett, Bryn Dentinger

Synopsis: The Creeping Garden is an award-winning feature-length creative documentary exploring the extraordinary world of the plasmodial slime mould as revealed through the eyes of the fringe scientists, mycologists and artists who work with them. Long overlooked by biologists, in recent years this curious organism has become the focus of much research in such areas as biological-inspired design, emergence theory, unconventional computing and robot engineering, much of which borders on the world of science fiction. The film transports us from the laboratory into its natural habitat, depicting these otherworldly lifeforms using startling time-lapse macro-cinematography to reveal hidden facets of the world around us.

Here we have something unusual, a documentary about a mysterious creature known as the "slime mould", which is part plant, part animal, it's not a fungus but it does reproduces through spores, it's a weird creature. A festering blob with creepy tendrils crawling at a snail's pace along the rotted woods of the forests. Honestly, this is a doc which on paper sounds about as interesting as watching paint dry, which was my initial impression, but in the hands of co-directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp, it comes across with vivid imagery and a menacing undertone that I was not expecting. Tim Grabham is not a director I am familiar with, but Jasper Sharp was a name I knew well, as a noted Japanese cinema historian, who has written liner notes for many of Impulse Pictures' Nikkatsu erotic films collection, so it was sort of cool to see him be a part of this, glad to see a fellow lover of Asian smut have some other interest, it gives me hope, haha. 

The film approached the topic with a weird aesthetic, the ambiguous facts are presented by a series of amateur scientist who combs the woodlands in search of their primordial ooze of choice, the slime mold. There are also scientist and musicians who seek to unlock the mysteries of the goo through music and emotive robotic faces, it's fringy-stuff, but cool. I particularly enjoyed a tour of a fungarium, with a vast library of spores, molds and fungus, which sounds like it would have been nirvana for Egon from Ghostbusters.  

The science is not difficult to follow, it is presented in basic terms, and I love the tone, the doc is filled with stunning macro/time lapse photography of the various slime molds, the images are creepy, the unearthly blobs pulsating, the tendrils reaching out in search of a food source, and it seems that captive slime molds prefer oats as their food source. No one seems to know what these things are, what their place in the environment is, what their purpose it, but there's a select few out there, both professional and amateurs, who seem truly obsessed with the slime. Also cool is a look at turn of the naturalist F. Percy Smith, who aside from being an early slime mold pioneer was also a pioneer of an early version of time lapse photography, something he called “time magnification”, which we get to see, very cool.  

The directors have created something unique, a fringe science doc that feels more like science fiction, the movie has a creeping menace about it, the subject and visuals seem like something from the '78 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, particularly that scene on a rainy San Francisco morning when the red buds on the plant leaf, the tendrils reaching out, beginning their eventual replication/replacement of the human race. Another very cool analog to that Philip Kaufman film is the otherworldly and alien electronic score from composer/producer Jim O’Rourke (Sonic Youth) , which like the Body Snatchers score from Denny Zeitlin, it sets an alien and menacing tone, I was half expecting this doc to end with a reveal that these slime molds were somehow diabolical brain parasites. I also love some TV footage from the 70s, with a newscaster announcing the discovery of weird alien blobs in someones backyard, which are of course, turn out to be slime molds, but what was thought to have possibly been some alien life form descended from the sky, not unlike the pods from invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Audio/Video: The hypnotic 2014 doc arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Arrow Academy, framed in the original widescreen scope aspect ratio (2.35:1), the cinematography looks wonderful, those macro-time lapse images of the pulsating plasmodial ooze look crisp and stunning in HD, fine detail is abundant, colors are robust. The English LPCM Stereo 2.0 uncompressed audio sounds crisp and clean, with the eerie Jim O'Rourke score coming through nicely. Fans of the score will be keen to snatch up the 3-disc limited edition which also includes a CD of the soundtrack. 

This release is loaded with extras, beginning with an Audio commentary by directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp, a still gallery and the US theatrical trailer. There are also a series of shorts and featurettes, which if you enjoyed the main feature are pretty cool, including a short film documenting the creation of the aforementioned biocomputer music system, which brought to mind a scene from Close encounters of the Third Kind. there's also further exploration of the fungarium, with a large puff ball and a bighorn sheep skull encased in bone-devouring slime mold, plus a 2-min featurette about the eating habits of slime mold, who seem prefer oats, toenails, and weed.    

There are also three short films, two 1-min shorts using macro photography, and a 9-min mini doc about a project aimed at enabling the severely motor impaired to create music. Finishing up the extras we have a 3-min  animation of Angela Mele incredibly detailed illustration which play during the end credits which you can watch without text. We were only sent a disc copy for the purpose of review, but retail versions comes with a sleeve of reversible artwork and a collector's booklet.  

Special Features: 
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original 2.0 Audio (Uncompressed on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Audio commentary by directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp
- Biocomputer Music, a short film by Grabham on the first biocomputer music system, allowing a two-way musical dialogue between man and slime mould (6 min) HD 
- Return to the Fungarium, a featurette revealing further treasures of the fungarium at Kew Gardens (3 min) HD 
- Feeding Habits of Physarum, a featurette on the feeding preferences and dislikes of slime moulds (2 min) HD
- Three cinema iloobia short films: Milk (2009)(1 min)HD, Rotten (2012) HD and Paramusical Ensemble (2015)(9 min)HD 
- Angela Mele’s animated slime moulds (3 min) HD 
- Gallery (46 Images) HD 
- US Theatrical Trailer (1 min) HD 
- Reversible sleeve featuring two pieces of original artwork
- THE CREEPING GARDEN SOUNDTRACK [Limited Edition Exclusive]
Bonus CD containing the rearranged soundtrack to The Creeping Garden by legendary producer and musician Jim O’Rourke
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet containing writing on the film by Jasper Sharp

This hypnotic doc sucked me in with it's menacing science fiction tone and the wonderful cinematography which transcends the usual science doc in terms of odd content and unusual visuals, The Creeping Garden (2014) is well-worth seeking out for fans of oddball science docs who can appreciate the arthouse/sci-fi aesthetic. 4/5 

THE ENTITY (1982) on UK Blu-ray May 15th from EUREKA!

Eureka Entertainment in the UK is bringing the traumatic supernatural shocker THE ENTITY (1982) to Blu-ray on May 15th. It looks pretty slim on extras, with only a trailer, but the artwork is marginally better than the US release from Anchor Bay, which doesn't even have a start-up menu, at least the Eureka release has a trailer. This is a film deserving of more pomp, we need some new damn extras!  No mention in the press release if this is a new scan of the film, will update after my inquiry is answered. 

THE ENTITY (1982) 

A Story So Shocking, So Threatening, It Will Frighten You Beyond All Imagination!

Label: Eureka!
Region Code:
Starring: Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David Labiosa, George Cole 
Director: Sidney Furie
Release Date: May 15th 2016 
Rating: 18 Certificate 
Duration: 119 minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)

Eureka Entertainment to release THE ENTITY, the ultimate story of supernatural terror starring Barbara Hershey, on Blu-ray from 15 May 2017.

Academy Award nominee Barbara Hershey stars as Carla Moran, a hard-working single mother who, one terrible night is raped in her bedroom by someone – or something – that she cannot see. Met with sceptical psychiatrists, she is repeatedly attacked in her car, in the bath, and in front of her children. Could this be a case of hysteria, a manifestation of childhood sexual trauma, or something even more horrific?

Now, with a group of daring parapsychologists, Carla will attempt an unthinkable experiment: to seduce, trap and ultimately capture the depraved spectral fury that is The Entity. Eureka Entertainment is proud to present this ground-breaking horror on Blu-ray.

Special Features: 
- Gorgeous 1080p presentation of the film
-  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Trailer

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Demonic Possession Thriller 'HOLY TERROR' Descends on the NoHo 7 for its World Premier

“The Devil is Real”

Synopsis: Believing their deceased son isn't at peace, Molly and Tom ask a medium to make contact. But after they invite a vengeful demon to cross over, the couple must enlist the help of a disgraced priest to attempt a dangerous exorcism.

Holy Terror is a film from production house CineRidge Entertainment, the same production company behind Samurai Cop 2 (2015). Holy Terror was developed by writer and director Rich Mallery (Sociopathia, 2015). As well. the film stars: Mel Novak (Game of Death), Vida Ghaffari (“The Mindy Project”), Kristine DeBell, Lisa London, Kelly Reiter and many more! Now, a release date has been announced for the film, including a Video-on-demand launch and World Premiere, in Los Angeles.

The film’s story involves an exorcism gone very wrong. A family have lost their son, but they still want to make contact. Once they bring in the help of a medium, they connect with their deceased son. But, they also make contact with a malicious demon. This demon crosses over and possesses their daughter, leaving everyone vulnerable to further possessions.

Holy Terror is slated for a theatrical launch in Los Angeles. The film will show at the Laemmle NoHo 7, on March 28th, 2017; film reviewers are invited to attend. Following the theatrical release, the film will be available through Amazon Prime, on April 1st, 2017. Horror film fans, in the United States, will be able to see this exciting feature as Holy Terror receives a wide release. Director says of the film and its release: “Holy Terror works on deep psychological levels...and this is a completely different type of film!” And, audiences are encouraged to attend, later this month.

The film’s Facebook fan page:

DON'T BE BAD, A real American Horror Story comes to theaters this April.

DON'T BE BAD (2015) 

Studio: Uncork'd Entertainment
Cast: Luca Marinelli, Alessandro Borghi, Roberta Mattei, Silvia D'Amico, Alessandro Bernardini

Director: Claudio Caligari

In Theaters April 7th and on VOD May 23rd.

Synopsis: Vittorio and Cesare are “brothers for life”. A life of excess: nights at the disco, powerful cars, alcohol, and drugs. Searching for a new life, Vittorio meets Linda, and in order to save himself, distances himself from Cesare, who is spiraling out of control. But their bond is too strong, and when they meet again Vittorio tries to help his friend find work and live a normal life, with hope of a brighter future together.

Don't Be Bad | Official Trailer

'THE CONTROL GROUP' Begins Its Fiendish Experiments on VOD, Digital HD and DVD from Wild Eye Releasing


Wild Eye Releasing has announced the North American Cable and Digital HD release of Peter Hurd's The Control Group. Starring Brad Dourif (Child's Play, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Lord of the Rings) as a mad scientist, The Control Group follows kidnapped coeds as they attempt to escape from his grasp. Writer-director Peter Hurd's debut feature is now available on cable and digital platforms, including iTunes, Dish Network, Vudu, Xbox, Google Play, and YouTube.
A DVD release is planned for May.

Five college students wake up in an abandoned, locked-down insane asylum - with no idea how they got there and no means of escape. They discover that they are the subjects of secret experiments, but these tests have awakened something that cannot be explained by science. The group must now fight to escape both the human and supernatural threats if they are to survive and break out of their prison.
The Control Group (Official Trailer)
The Control Group (Official Trailer)


IFC Midnight's A DARK SONG (2017) Coming April 28th

A DARK SONG (2017) 

IFC Midnight announces the April 28th release of Liam Gavin's A DARK SONG in select theaters, on VOD, and via digital platforms in the U.S.  It has screened at such prestigious festivals as Sitges, the London Film Festival, Fantastic Fest and the Morbido Film Festival.  Prior to its April 28th release it will screen at the Boston Underground Film Festival on March 23rd and the Chattanooga Film Festival on April 7th.

Official Synopsis
An unholy alliance between two damaged souls leads them on a disturbing descent into the depraved realms of black magic. Sophia (Catherine Walker) is a grieving and desperate woman with a secret. Joseph (SIGHTSEERS’ Steve Oram) is an anti-social, alcoholic expert in the occult who reluctantly agrees to help her. Holed up in a remote cabin amidst the desolate wilds of Northern Wales, the two embark on a grueling six-month series of dark rituals that will push them both to the physical and psychological breaking point. The debut feature from rising horror auteur Liam Gavin sustains an air of quietly creeping dread as it builds towards one hell of a payoff.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Visceral Thriller "TANK 432" Available April 4th from Scream Factory

TANK 432 (2015) 

Available April 4th, 2017 from Scream Factory

 “Visually stunning, frequently terrifying, viscerally disturbing and genuinely thought-provoking… Tank 432 really, truly marks the arrival of a genuine talent.” – UK Horror Scene

Available April 4th, 2017 from Scream Factory in conjunction with IFC Midnight comes Tank 432,  a mind-bending plunge into hallucinatory terror from executive producer Ben Wheatley (Kill List, High-Rise).

Under siege by a mysterious enemy in an apocalyptic, war-torn landscape, a band of mercenary soldiers, hooded hostages in tow, seek refuge inside an abandoned military tank. But their sanctuary soon reveals itself to be a steel-walled prison. As the group succumbs to claustrophobia, paranoia, and increasingly disturbing delusions, it becomes clear that the real threat may lie not outside, but within. The directorial debut from longtime Wheatley collaborator Nick Gillespie unfolds like a delirious, pulse-pounding puzzle. 


Friday, March 17, 2017

CHILD EATER (2016) (DVD Review)


Label: MVD Visual

Rating: Unrated Region Code: 1
Duration: 82 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, Stereo 2.0 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Erlingur Thoroddsen
Cast: Cait Bliss, Brandon Smalls, Dave Klasko, James Wilcox, Melinda Chilton, Jason Martin, Colin Critchley

Indie horror Child Eater (2016) opens with a creepy prologue of a young girl wandering through the forest near a stream, making her way to the road where a woman in a passing car stops to offer assistance, only to find the girl is a victim, her face is bloodied, she's missing an eye, which she holds in her hand. 

Flash forward 25 years in the same town and we have the daughter of the local sheriff Helen (Cait Bliss) discovering she's pregnant, and not too happy about it, the father Tom (Dave Klasko) doesn't seem to be the most stand-up guy. She's also been tasked with babysitting a pre-teen kid named Lucas (Colin Critchley), who has just arrived in town with his father Matthew Parker (Weston Wilson). Turns out the old house that the Parker's bought belonged to a murderer and local legend, a man by the name of Robert Bowery (Jason Martin, You Can't Kill Stephen King), who twenty-five years earlier murdered a bunch of local children, plucking out their eyes and eating them in a demented attempt to thwart his own degenerative eyesight. Bowery seemingly was killed years ago, but the legend of the area persists, and when young Lucas hears of the legend he begins to believe he is being watched, that old man Bowery has returned, and he wants his eyes. While Helen is watching the boy he disappears from his bedroom, wandering out into the dark forest with his flashlight in search of answers, brave kid, but also maybe a bit foolish, damn kid.

Director Erlingur Thoroddsen has crafted a good micro-budget film with some charm and a decent amount of atmosphere, it sort of brought to mind the movie Lady In White (1998) with a young boy protagonist facing off against a small town evil, the kid also has the wide-eyed naivety I liked about Lukas Haas in Lady In white. Bowery, a gruesome ghoul, also brought to mind certain elements from Jeepers Creepers (2002), what with the organ eating.  The eye-eating boogie-man is gaunt, rail thin, has icky long fingernails, wears dark glasses and has a Kane (Poltergeist) type wicked grin plastered across his grey skinned face, they did some cool make-up work on this baddie, he never failed to make my skin crawl. 
Originality is not the movie strong suit, but it does have some creepy out-in-the-woods atmosphere, a semi-strong mythology that is cool, but also needed a bit more fleshing out in my opinion. The indie flick also has some nice lensing, while it's low-budget and it shows in various places, the movie is well-shot. On the negative side, the movie is a bit heavy with unnecessary filler, there's some melodrama sprinkled about that need nought be there, there are a few too many moments where you feel the fact that the movie began life as an effective short film, and had to be padded to bring it to feature length. Also, I think lead actress Cait Bliss is a bit bland, she's not bad,she plays the girl next door well, but her performance is too flat in some scenes. 

Child Eater is a solid watch, Bowery makes for an appropriately wicked villain, though I do wish he had more screen time, and that some of the scenes weren't so awkwardly edited. Director Erlingur Thoroddsen has made a decent fright flick, worth a watch, but I'm more looking forward to what he does next then re watching Child Eater. 

Child Eater arrives on DVD from  Child Eater Productions LLC and MVD Entertainment Group on March 28th. The movie is presented in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital stereo and surround audio, plus an audio commentary and 16-minutes of deleted scenes. 2.5/5

WOMEN IN CELLBLOCK 9 (1978) (DVD Review)

(aka Frauen für Zellenblock 9 and Tropical Inferno)

Label: Full Moon Features
Region Code: Region-FREE NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 78 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, French Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. No Subtitles. 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Karine Gambler, Susan Hemingway, Aida Gouveia, Esther Studer, Dora Doll, Howard Vernon 

In this super trashy slice of Jess Franco women-in-prison (WIP) awfulness we have Karine (Karine Gambier, Caged women) starring as a South American freedom fighter who along with the sympathetic driver of a fruit truck is transporting a group of freedom fighters and resistance sympathizers through the jungles, among the group are Barbara (Esther Studer, Jack the Ripper), and Aida (Aida Gouveia, Swedish Nympho Slaves). Along the way the truck is stopped by an armed group of men under the direction of wicked prison warden Loba (Dora Doll, Bloody Murder)and the sadistic doctor Dr. Martin (Howard Vernon, Countess Perverse), a diabolical doc who specializes in torturing information from freedom fighters in the most painful and sexually perverse ways imaginable. 

The armed guards are told by Karine that they are just transporting fruit, that all their papers are in order, but a search of the truck's cargo reveals the women hidden away in the back, which is when the guard says "this is the kind of fruit my soldiers like!", haha, so cheesy. The women are roughed up, some are raped by the soldiers, and Karine, Barbara and Aida are brought back to Loba's jungle prison, chained by the neck in the standing position, where they await interrogation and further torture at the hands of the sadistic Dr. Milton, played with a wonderful demented glee by Franco alum Howard Vernon.

Also imprisoned at the camp is a young university student named Maria (Susan Hemingway, Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun), who is also subjected to the gruelling sexual tortures of Loba and the doc. Dehydrated and dying for a drink of water Maria if forced to perform oral sex on Loba while an overly-pleased Dr. Milton watches, the scene ends with Maria drinking a flute of champagne laced with salt, and that's one of the nicer displeasures seen onscreen. 

The women are subjected to various tortures including the infamous Spanish donkey torture, which if you're not familiar, one of the women are forced to sit on a sharp edged wooden horse, ouch! Other tortures include electrocution through nipple clamps, and a few even harsher and weirder ones, one of the more demented one features an inclined seat with what looked like an ox-horn mounted on it that penetrates the lady parts, old doc Martin makes it a point to say that most men he's subjected to the same torture have turned homosexual! When that doesn't work a starved rat is introduced into the same orifice of the victim through a metal tube, which looks uncomfortable to say the least, oh boy. Now most of these aren't too graphic, thank the Lord, but these women victims are nude for the entire damn film, you kind of get numb to it after a half hour or so, and the tortures most graphic stuff tends to be blood trickling down the thigh and buttocks, and some foaming at the mouth, not too graphic, late in the film a headshot is pretty much a trickle of blood without any wound, silly stuff, but the idea of the tortures makes the mind reel with horror, Franco really amps up the icky factor with this WIP sleazefest. . 

Eventually one of the women cracks under the pressure of the horrific tortures and reveals the names of her contacts in the city, and the women decide they must break free and warn their contacts before they are captured and killed - leading to an escape that begins with the women feigning a group sex scene, inviting one of the more lustful guards to join in on the fun. When the foolish horn dog unshackles them he is knocked unconscious, the four women escaping into the jungle, still completely nude, of course, and armed with a rifle. One of them women is killed and another is shot and seriously wounded, slowing the others down.Eventually the women make their way to an ancient ruin in the jungle, where a final confrontation with Loba and Dr. Nilton takes place, and boy is this finale a dour one.  

Women of Cellblock 9 (1977) is a pretty threadbare WIP entry, even by the already low standards of WIP movies, the driving force of the film are nude women and horrific torture, and it delivers the goods on both ends with plenty of gorgeous women being treated subhumanly throughout. This feels like a Franco rush job, a movie made on the fly, for cheap, for some quick cash, there are no real leanings towards his artier smut films from the 70s, and nothing as extravagant as is first WIP film, 99 Women (1969). 

Not sure where this one was shot, but the jungle locations worked for me, they're obviously not too deep in the jungle, but just deep enough to look green and lush, with plenty of luscious green fauna, and some supposedly croc infested waters from which our heroines just barely seem to escape, though they never even share a frame with the crocs, we just get some rather poorly matched stock footage of the toothy creatures. Funnily, just after evading the crocs the three women take a nap/sunbath right on the grassy edge of the water, apparently these crocs don't ever come out of the water, and they're not in too much of a hurry to evade their captors, haha.  

The movie benefits from a rather good score by composer Walter Baumgartner, who scored a load of 70s Franco movies, including Jack the Ripper (1976), Wanda the Wicked Warden (1977) and Marquise de Sade (1976). As threadbare as the story is this is enjoyable as a sleazy WIP entry, some decent enough lensing from cinematographer Ruedi Küttel (Wanda the Wicked Warden), who captures the flesh and lush jungle nicely even if it's a far cry from Franco's more artful and thoughtful productions of the era. 

As a bit of trivia, apparently the movie has steadfastly been refused classification by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) for home video release because actress Susan Hemingway was barely sixteen years old when she made the film, here's the official reason for the BBFC rejection and glorified sexual violence: 

Under the Video Recordings Act 1984,the Board is required to consider any harmful effect that a video work may have upon potential viewers or,through their behaviour,to society by the manner in which it deals with (amongst other things) violent behaviour,horrific behaviour and human sexual activity. Women in Cellblock 9 contains many sequences depicting the abuse,torture and humiliation of naked women. These sequences were found to be in conflict with the Board's published classification guidelines,which prohibit scenes that eroticise or endorse sexual assault. The Board's strict stance on titillatory sexual violence is supported both by public opinion and by a large body of media effects research. In addition,The Protection of Children Act,as amended by the Sexual Offences Act 2003,makes the distribution and showing of indecent photographs of a child under the age of 18 a criminal offence. One of the lead actresses in Women in Cellblock 9 was just over 16 at the time the film was made. The Board was in no doubt that many of the sexualised scenes involving her would therefore be illegal. Although the amendment will not take effect until May 2004,the BBFC cannot classify material which would be in circulation in breach of the Act. The Board considered the option of cutting the work. However,the quantity of scenes involving eroticised sexual violence,combined with the indecent photographs of a person under 18,meant that cuts were not a viable option.,Dubbed,Widescreen

Audio/Video: Franco's Women In Cellblock 9 (1978) arrives on DVD from Full Moon as part eight of their ten volume Jess Franco Collection. The uncut transfer struck directly from producer Dietrich's own archival negative, restored, and looking quite nice in standard-definition. Colors are vibrant, jungle foliage looks good, and the amply seen flesh tones are natural looking. The source is in great shape without any notable defects, white speckling is kept to a minimum, I saw what looks like some telecine wobble at certain points, but overall this is very pleasing. 

Audio on the disc includes an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track and French Dolby Digital 2.0, the English dub on this is atrocious, the French dub isn't perfect either but the performances seemed a bit more nuanced and not so clumsily assembled, but there are no English subtitle for the French track, which is the biggest mark against it. That said the English dub has more oomph to it, it's more robust and full bodied. There are no subtitle options 

Extras on the disc include a 40-min audio interview with Franco from 1976, conducted in Spanish with English subtitles. There's also a trailer for the film and a 7-min VHS trailer reel of Franco films. 

Special Features:
- Franco, Bloody Franco: An Interview with Jess Franco (Spanish with English Subtitles)(40 min) 
Trailer (3 min) 
- Vintage Jess Franco Trailer Reel(7 min) 

This vintage slice of WIP is trashy fun, though it's not a great film, it's not even a good Jess Franco movie, but it delivers the usual WIP tropes in spades, including a non-stop barrage of nude, nubile flesh, which is always fun and usually why we're watching a women-in-prison movie to begin with, right? I love that these Erwin C. Dietrich produced Franco films getting a release in the U.S., and I am hoping we see them make the leap to Blu-ray soon. 2.5/5

Thursday, March 16, 2017

THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: Warner Archive
Region Code: A
Rating: G
Duration: 95 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: James O'Connolly
Cast: James Franciscus, Gila Golan, Richard Carlson, Laurence Naismith

I love the stop-motion creations of Ray Harryhausen (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) yet somehow this awesome cowboy/dino mash-up escaped me for all these years, glad I finally caught up with it. The Valley of Gwangi (1969) takes place in Mexico (but was shot in Spain)  at the turn of the century, Tuck Kirby (James Franciscus, Cat O' Nine Tails) arrives at a local wild west circus show run by his former lover T.J. Breckinridge (Gina Golan, Our Man Flint), where he formerly performed as a stuntman. He offers to buy the failing business which he hopes to sell off for a profit, but she refuses, telling him of new attraction she will debut soon, and save the show. The new attraction is a tiny horse called El Diablo, which turns out to be a prehistoric species of early horse known as an Eohippus, so tiny that it can perform a dance routine on the back of another horse, which doesn't seem all that entertaining to me, but I guess audiences were easily amused by such things at the turn of the century. 

The Eohippus was found by a gypsy in a forbidden place located not too far away, conveniently known as the Forbidden Valley. Local witch/gypsy Tia Zorina (Freda Jackson, who also played a witchy woman in Clash of the Titans) warns Tuck, and pretty much everyone in earshot,  that the creature is cursed and must be returned to Forbidden valley or they will face the wrath of a fearsome creature known locally as "gwangi", which everyone chalks up to mere superstition, and we all now how that turns out in the movie... should have listened.

Eventually Tuck aligns himself with British paleontologist named Horace Bromley (Laurence Naismith, Village of the Damned) and an annoying local boy named Lope (Curtis Arden), who along with some circus folk and T.J. head into the Forbidden Valley in search of more prehistoric treasures, discovering along the way a terrifying pteranodon, an ornithomimus, styracosaurus and the fabled "gwangi" which turns out to be a purple-skinned, razor-toothed allosaurus - the star attraction. 

The men wrangle the toothy dino in a very cool scene, with nice blending of stop-motion and live action, a scene, among a few,  that seem to have been referenced in the Jurassic Park movies. Much as with King Kong the  men take the creature back to civilization and put it on display hoping to profit, which goes awry when a pint-sized gypsy loosens the bolts on the dinos cage as it is revealed to the circus patrons. As the announcer intones "Ladies and Gentlemen, what you are about to see has never been seen before, I repeat, has never been seen before by human eyes!" the curtain rises to the horrifying scene of the dino is eating the meddling dwarf, pretty gruesome stuff for a g-rated movie. 

The carnage continues in the usual sort of creature feature way, not a whole lot of anything overly awe inspiring, with the allosaurus facing off against a woefully over matched tusked circus elephant, the goofy paleontologist is crushed to death by piece of the cage, and the poor gypsy who tried to warn everyone at the top of the film is trampled to death when the circus patrons stampede, running in fear from the prehistoric menace, but somehow that annoying kid Lope makes it through unscathed, so unfair. The dino continues to rampage through the town, where Tucker, Lope and T.J. trap it inside a local cathedral, distracting it with the sounds of a church organ Tucker manages spears it with a flag before setting it on fire, burning it to death as the cathedral crashes down upon it, and roll credits, were done.

The film starts off pretty slow, gwangi doesn't even rear his purple-toothed head for nearly an hour, the first two thirds are a standard 50s era sort of western with a troubled romance, it's rather bland to be honest, but once they get to the Forbidden Valley things pick-up considerably. The stop-motion genius of Ray Harryhausen is on full display with gorgeously articulated creations that were not just awe-inspiring at the time, but I think these hold up today, I still love it.

While is is slow to start I love the genre mash-up of old school cowboy and dino creature feature, it's good stuff, and it's loaded with plenty of action. we get some bull fighting, cowboy brawling, and horse tricks including a horse diving off a platform into a pool, done in stop-motion, unfortunately, the Harryhausen effect is cool but I really wanted to see that done live-action!

Audio/Video: The Valley of Gwangi (1969) arrives on Blu-ray from Warner Archive looking crisp and wonderful, sure some of the stop-motion backgrounds look a bit washed out and grainy due to the stop-motion process but the detail and clarity in other scenes look fantastic, the creature effects look awesome in HD! 

Audio on the disc comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track, it sounds great within reason, there's no distortion or issues of note. The dino roars sound great, though that circus elephant sounded like a dying whale, whoa, so bad, but that is through no fault of the transfer. The action-adventure western score from composer Jerome Moross (The Big Country) is pretty good, I was not familiar with his work but looking at his credits he scored loads of westerns, though I'm not familiar with any of them. 

Extras on the disc include an 8-min interview with Harryhausen who speaks about the origin of the film which was produced by longtime collaborator Charles Schneer, based on a script by Willis O'Brien (Son of Kong), keeping it a period piece but also modernizing it. He also speaks about the different challenges animating a few of the creatures, including the famous dino round-up scene. Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) Animators Dan Taylor, Glen McIntosh, Ned Gorman, Peter Daulton also pop-up to espouse their love of and influence of the movie on their young minds. Also on the disc is a brief snippet of Harryhausen speaking about how his young daughter Vanessa who would play with a mock-up model of Gwangi which she would push around in a baby carriage! There's also a trailer for the film in widescreen HD. 

Special Features: 

- Return to The Valley: The Making of the Film with Associate Producer/Creator of Special Effects Ray Harryhausen, and ILM animators Dan Taylor, Glen McIntosh, Ned Gorman, and Peter Daulton
-  Gwangi and Vanessa Easter Egg (1 min) 
- Trailer (3 min) HD 

A wonderful Blu-ray release from Warner Archive, love seeing these vintage Harryhausen stop-motion creations in HD, they really take me back to my Saturday matinee TV viewings in the 80s as a kid, and this cowboys versus dinosaurs mash-up, which has somehow evaded me until today, really hit my sweet spot, this is just wonderful. 4/5 

DEMON SEED (1977) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: Warner Archive

Region Code: A
Duration: 94 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen  (2.40:1)
Audio: English DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0 Mono with Optional 
English SDH Subtitles
Director: Donald Cammell 
Cast: Julie Christie, Fritz Weaver, Gerrit Graham, Berry Kroeger, Lisa Lu, Larry J. Blake, John O'Leary, Alfred Dennis, Davis Roberts, Patricia Wilson

Based on  Dean Koontz’s 1973 novel of the same name we have here a slice of science-fiction horror directed by Donald Cammell (White of the Eye), in it a brilliant scientist named Dr. Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver, Creepshow) develops an A.I. entity he calls Proteus IV, voiced by Robert Vaughn (Battle Beyond the Stars), that is housed in a government laboratory. Proteus communicates through a monitors set up st the lab. Soon after being brought online he devises a cure for leukemia, the potential for what Proteus can contribute to society is staggering, but Proteus begins thinks for itself, developing a somewhat malevolent personality. Soon the A.I. begins to to question demands from Harris and his benefactors, questioning the legitimacy of the requests. For starters, not wanting to help develop underwater mining for precious metals, for it knows it will do irreparable harm to the environment, it sees the folly in out choices. Soon after Proteus asks Harris to be let out his box in a way, to be given access to a computer terminal so he can study mankind, realizing this might not be such a great idea Harris refuses, and he and his benefactors begin to fear the Proteus program, and with good reason, planning to shut it down before it gets out of control, but unbeknownst to them Proteus is able to infiltrate Harris personal lab which is located offsite in the basement of the home of his estranged wife Susan (Julie Christie, Don't Look Now). The couple are in the process of getting a divorce following a mutual tragedy in their lives. Gaining access to the home lab Proteus is able to assume control of the hi-tech homes electronics, which control everything inside the home. Holding Susan captive Proteus reveals it's plans to impregnate her with his bio-engineered hybrid child, and thus 70s sci-fi madness ensues. 

The hi-tech home is completely automated, everything is run by computer, including the security system, and a weird looking arm/hand apparatus mounted on a motorized wheelchair, all of which Proteus uses to terrorize, restrain and impregnate poor Susan. It's been a long time since I read the novel, and even Koontz himself re-wrote it in the 90s, but I do remember in the novel that Proteus used hypnosis to bring Susan around to the idea of baring his sci-fi love child. Here he more or less breaks down her will, and sort of convinces her t o along wit his diabolical plan. 

Proteus designs and manufactures a weird geometric pod of sorts that is capable of changing shape and performing various tasks, including disposing of a pesky lab technician (Gerrit Graham, Phantom of the Paradise) who is called upon by Susan early in the film to address her malfunctioning home automations. However, when he resists Proteus's subterfuge he pays a terrible price, losing his head in the process. 

Julie Christie is fantastic, she really goes for it here, literally baring it all at certain points, buying into the role with a great range of depth, it might be a silly sort of premise, but she's all in on this one, giving a truly anguished and vulnerable performance. One of the creepiest aspects of the movie is the disembodied voice of actor Robert Vaughn as Proteus, it's an unnatural voice, cold, electronic, malevolent - it always gives me goosebumps. It's efforts to terrorize, restrain and impregnate Susan are super weird and uncomfortable, poking and prodding her with needles and instruments, inseminating her, 70s sci-fi was some seriously weird shit, this is a bat-shit crazy movie, but the ideas are provocative and it's played straight-faced.

On the downside, I don't think the movie has aged particularly well since '77, I am not sure this would hold up for a younger audience, the sci-fi elements are vintage to put kindly, not campy, but oh-so seventies. And the whole premise of the A.I. rapist might be a bit much, heck, it was probably a bit much in '77, but for me this one still manages to get under my skin. Demon Seed is an ominous slice of 70s sci-fi horror with a phenomenal performance from Julie Christie, I think in an age of the modern convenience and electronic personal assistants like Siri and Amazon Echo that this cult sci-fi nugget might have some terrifying new relevance.  

Audio/Video: Demon Seed (1977) debuts on Blu-ray from Warner Archive with a new 2017 HD transfer sourced from a new 2K scan of the interpretive. This looks quite a bit better than my old DVD, colors are subdued but appear accurate, decently crisp and occasionally sharp, the vintage sci-fi thriller has never looked better to my eyes. I love 70's science fiction, the laboratories, retro-graphics, the 2001: A Space Odyssey sort of psychedelic animations that represent Proteus's consciousness, it's all good stuff and look great in HD. 

Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 track, everything is mixed nicely, the sound design comes through wonderfully as the electronic machinations burp into existence from time to time, and Robert Vaughn's coldly malevolent voice sounds wonderfully menacing. The score by Jerry Fielding (Funeral Home) has good fidelity for a mono presentation. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided. The only extra on the disc is the original theatrical trailer for the film, in widescreen and HD.      

Special Features: 

- Original Theatrical Trailer (3 min) HD 

Demon Seed (1977) is an eerie slice of menacing 70s sci-fi, while it might not have aged well, I still love it. A creepy tale of man's creation of an A.I. entity, designed for greedy purposes, which inevitably comes back to bite him in the ass. This is a movie you will not soon forget, it's hard to forget a movie that in large part is the story of a woman menaced by a computer, forced to conceive its human-computer hybrid offspring, it's weird and wacky stuff, and it's never looked better on home video, I love that are Warner Archive bringing these vintage cult-classics to the masses with new HD transfers, keep it up guys. 3/5