Wednesday, January 17, 2018

DRAG ME TO HELL (2009) (2-Disc Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review)

2-Disc Collector's Edition

Label: Scream Factory 
Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13, Unrated
Duration: 99 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1, Stereo 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1) 
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, David Paymer, Adriana Barraza

Sam Raimi's long-awaited return to horror following three mega-budget Spider-Man movies was a welcomed trip to the cinema for me, opening with a pre-credit sequence set in the late-60's we have a Latino couple bringing their cursed son to the home of spiritual medium Shaun San Dena to cleanse him of an evil spirit, the young boy having been cursed by a gypsy following an act of petty larceny. The scene is a fantastic opener, it comes fast and furious with an up-front gut-punch and slams a Drag Me To Hell title card up in your face, it certainly sets a tone. Moving ahead to current day we meet bank loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman, White Oleander) who is chomping at the bit for an assistant manager promotion, but her boss Jim Jacks (David Paymar, Night of the Creeps) has pitted her against office newcomer Stu (Reggie Lee, Tropic Thunder), a sycophant ass-kisser, a real conniving backstabber who is actively working against Christine to snag the promotion for himself. In an effort to prove she can make the tough choices required of management she turns down elderly gypsy woman Sylvia Ganush's (Lorna Raver, TV's The Young and the Restless) request for a third extension on her mortgage, the woman pleads with Christine but she turns her away. Embarrassed after what she perceives as being shamed the gypsy makes quite a scene, attacking the loan officer before  being escorted from the bank by security. At the end of the work day Christine walks to her car in a dark underground garage, where she  finds the surprisingly spry and vicious elderly woman waiting for her, the gypsy attacks her in a flurry of old had fury, cursing her with a demonic entity called the Lamia. The scene in the parking garage is pure vintage Raimi, with Christine defending herself with a stapler in close-quarters combat with he Hungarian woman, it's awesomely edited in a barrage of stylized action.

After surviving the attack Christine and her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long, Tusk) happen upon a fortune teller named Rham Jas (Dileep Rao, Inception) who becomes alarmingly frightened by what he sees in the poor girl's future, informing her that she has been cursed with the Lamia, a powerful evil spirit that will torment her for three days before dragging her to Hell. Nice guy Clay does his best to dismiss the warning, he's way to straight-laced to believe in any of this mystical curse bullshit, but nonetheless Christine begins to have nightmares and visions of the gypsy woman attacking her, also plagued by a taunting shadow spirit of the Lamia. She once again seeks the help of the fortune teller, and with his guidance offers up her beloved kitten as an animal sacrifice to rid herself of the curse, however, when her feline sacrifice fails to illicit the preferred outcome the fortune teller sends her to the medium from the start of the film. 

As the movie plays out Christine suffers from physical, visual and auditory abuse by the evil spirit who is inching ever closer, which make a dinner date with Clay's disapproving mother (Molly Cheek, American Pie)all the more awkward, especially when an eye emerges from her home baked slice of cake at the dinner table, causing the cursed Christine to flip her wig and make quite a scene. This might be a PG-13 rated movie but Raimi packs it with mouthfuls of gooey disgustingness, there's A LOT of spew being injected into poor Christine's mouth, from green embalming from a cadaver's mouth to grub-infested soil and eyeballs, it's gag-reflex inducing slice of horror-comedy that might upset a few stomachs along the way. The special effects are a mixed bag of practical, puppets and digital, some of the digital draws attention to itself but for the most part this thing stands up nine years after the fact, not too shabby at all.

There are loads of nods to Raimi's Evil Dead films, the way he puts his starlet Lohman through the wringer definitely recalls his torturous treatment of Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn), she's put through Hell before possibly being dragged there! The gore is toned down for the PG-13 rating but Raimi manages to sneak a lot of gross stuff into this one just by toning down the colors of the fluids here I think, the unrated cut offering more blood-colored gore as opposed to brownish in the theatrical, watching the theatrical version I wasn't too aware of the PG-13 rating, there's even a great overwrought nosebleed gag that turns into a geyser. The unrated cut offers some extended scenes with slightly more viscera, my favorite being the cat-sacrifice, it's way bloodier in the unrated version. There's a lot of great set pieces here, including the séance at the home of medium Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza, Babel) that goes bat-shit insane with the Lamia possessing a goat and one of the guests, it's both hilarious and also nerve-rattling, a cacophonous blend of visuals, gooey loony toon gags, and a slashing string score.

Audio/Video: Drag Me To Hell (2009) arrives on two-disc Blu-ray from Scream Factory as part of their Collector's Edition series, showcasing both the theatrical and unrated cuts of the film - both running 99 minutes - with new HD masters sourced from the 2K digital intermediate. The previous Universal Blu-ray was pretty fantastic to begin with, so the the image here is not surprisingly crisp and clean, as it was shot on digital it doesn't have traditional grain structures or inherent film flaws,  it has a pleasing clarity to it and looks great in motion. Colors come through strong with nice vibrancy and the black levels when called upon are deep and inky - no complaints whatsoever. Disc one contains the original theatrical  cut, disc two carrying the unrated cut of the film, both versions look identical to my eyes. 

Onto the audio Scream Factory offer up a choice of DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 track with optional English subtitles. The sound design for this movie is simply amazing, from Christopher Young's excellent and wonderfully dramatic,string laden score to the sound of flies buzzing around the room this thing packs a wallop on the surround system, loved it.  

Onto the extra we begin with disc one, the theatrical cut, which offers up the 35-minute production diary, which was the only extra on the Universal Blu-ray, adding some vintage EPK interviews and a trailer and TV spots. Onto disc two we get the unrated version with some meatier/new extras, beginning with an interview with star Alison Lohman who speaks about working with Sam Raimi and Lorna Raver, noting she was not into horror film and didn't know much about Raimi going in, having to trust his slapstick instinct since she had none, and not realizing how much Raimi had tortured Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell in the past, but feeling should could relate, as she suffered from stress disorder shingles following the shoot!  There's also a great interview with Lorna Raver who played the gypsy Sylvia Ganush, she also had no knowledge of Raimi's works prior to the shoot, describing a twinkle in Raimi's eye that usually indicated something mischievous was abut to transpire.  Composer Christopher Young shows up for a 17-min chat about his score, beginning by recalling his first viewing of the Evil Dead and knowing right then that he and Raimi were kindred spirits and that he wanted to work with him at some point. He describes the score and various themes used in the movie, his process and Raimi's way of cuing him into what he needed from the score. The second disc is buttoned up with an image gallery

This 2-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase, with a sleeve of reversible artwork, the a-side featuring a new eye-catching illustration from the CRP Group (Firestarter, Rabid, Species), the b-side featuring the original movie poster. This release comes with a limited edition slipcase (o-card) featuring the new illustration, the 2-discs featuring excerpts of the same artworks on the reversible sleeve. 

Special Features:
Disc One:
- NEW HD master of the theatrical cut taken from the 2K digital intermediate
- Production Diaries - with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with co- writer/director Sam Raimi, actors Allison Lohman, Justin Long, David Paymer, Dileep Rao, Lorna Raver, special effects guru Greg Nicotero, director of photography Peter Deming, and more… (35 min) HD
- Vintage interviews with director Sam Raimi and actors Alison Lohman and Justin Long (23 min) HD
- TV Spots (1 min) HD
- Theatrical Trailer

Disc Two:
- NEW HD master of the unrated cut taken from the 2K digital intermediate
-NEW To Hell and Back – an interview with actress Alison Lohman (12 min)HD
- NEW Curses! – an interview with actress Lorna Raver (16 min)HD
- NEW Hitting All The Right Notes – an interview with composer Christopher Young (17 min)HD
- Still Gallery (2 min)

I loved Drag Me To Hell (2009) when it first arrived in the cinemas, and it has become one of my favorite Raimi films, it has legs and holds up to repeated viewings. Sure, it's a bit derivative of Raimi's earlier horror films, but that's also what I love about it.  This 2-disc set looks and sounds great, but then again so did the Universal disc, the new extras don't feature any new Sam Raimi input so the double-dip worthiness of it is debatable if you already own the previous release. Surprisingly there's not any input from special make-up team of Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero who worked on the film, but if you're looking to upgrade this has some nice shelf appeal and the new artwork looks great, but the new extras aren't essential in my opinion, if it had a new Raimi interview or commentary it would easily have been an essential upgrade, but this is still an excellent release. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

BARBED WIRE DOLLS (1976)  (Full Moon Blu-ray Review)


Label: Full Moon Features
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 81 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Lina Romay, Monica Swinn, Martine Stedil, Eric Falk, Paul Muller

Barbed Wire Dolls (1976) is widely considered one of the most outrageous women-in-prison films of all time, it was the first team-up between Franco and Swedish producer Erwin C. Dietrich When the producer saw the finished cut of the film he declared that it was unreleasable as is - surely not the first or last time the Spanish euro-cult auteur heard that I am sure - but Franco turned him around and the pair had a great string of exploitation films to follow. 

In this seedy WI.P classic Maria (Lina Romay, The Hot Nights of Linda) is sent to an island prison for the murder of her incestuous father, the prison is run by a diabolical lesbo-warden (Monica Swinn, The Duke of Burgundy) who has a penchant for wearing a monocle, reading Nazi literature in bed, and walking around in some seriously demented wardrobes, her preference is for short-shorts and jackboots. She also enjoys the company of women, namely that of her prisoner's whenever the urge arises, occasionally darting her tongue into some ambiguous places in the process. The movie doesn't get much if any set-up, but the standard WIP tropes apply, we have a wicked warden and a group of mostly nude young women, who are subjected to the cruel tortures and erotic delights of the warden and her equally wicked underlings, the diabolical Dr. Costa (Paul Muller, She Killed in Ecstasy) and the pervy torturer Nestor (Eric Faulk, Blue Rita), the latter of whom subjects the women to whippings, beatings and electrocution via the nude women being tied down to a metal bed spring box hooked up to an electrical current. When the women are electrocuted they begin flailing wildly and screaming in pain as the lights dim off and on, it's good, lurid exploitation stuff. 

Lina Romay has that wonderful wide-eyed innocence I love about her, plus that voluptuous 70's body of hers is a major turn on for me, she has something about her that always get under the skin, a lot of it has to do with the way her mouth frames her teeth, but I'm just weird that way, she's a stunner! The nudity in this one is wall-to-wall, including not just her but three other female prisoners, we have the ginger duo of the truly bonkers Ingrid (Peggy Markoff, Swedish Nympho Slaves), who thinks she's a Queen,  the more mean-spirited Rosaria (Beni Cardoso, The Girl from Rio) - who in one scene masturbates with a lit cigarette! - and a blond inmate named Bertha (Martine Stedil, Women Behind Bars), all of whom eventually team-up with newcomer Maria for a daring prison break they get the best of the lustful Dr. Costas who is too blinded by his libido to see what's coming.   

The story is mighty threadbare, most WIP films are, but even by that anemic standard this one has no real drive, perhaps even more plotless than Franco's Women in Cell Block 9 (1978). Where it succeeds is amping up the lurid sexploitation with lots of seedy violence and torture thrown in for cheap titillation, and that's all right by me. A scene worth noting, and not for anything good, is a flashback/dream of Maria's father, played by director Jess Franco, chasing her around with thoughts of daughterly lust on his mind. The scene plays out in slow-motion, but the camera is not slowed down, nope, Franco and Romay play the scene moving themselves in slow motion in a Vaseline lensed slice of hilarious strangeness, the effect completely fails, so much so that it's laughable. As much as I do love Franco there's does always tend to be something sort of unintentionally funny about a moment or two, and not just the crazy use of zoom lensing. 

The island prison's relaxed dress code is also suspect in a campy way, sure we get the expected women prisoners without clothing, but the Warden is never seen fully clothed, not even once, when she's not parading around in her jackboots and short-shorts she's in a see-through negligee or less, and during the island escape the guards pursue the women through the jungle topless, including the a woman guard, small things like that just bring a smile to my face - it doesn't have to make sense, it just has to be fun, and despite the depravity of this lurid slice of WIP cinema, it is a good bit of ridiculous fun. 

Barbed Wire Dolls (1976) is a ton of WIP fun, it's super-sleazy even by the usual Jess Franco standards, but not quite on par with the hardcore stuff he did, but there's still plenty of tortured titties, naughty finger and whip penetration and gratuitous crotch shots, but as I've said,  it's not up there with the x-rated cut of The Hot Night of Linda, but it has loads of what a WIP needs to be salaciously entertaining.
Audio/Video: Jess Franco's Barbed Wire Dolls (1976) arrives on Blu-ray from the original 35mm negative, restored by Swiss producer Erwin C. Dietrich's from the original vault elements, Full Moon licensed this from Acot who also released region-free BLu-rays of these titles in the U.K.. The results look great, this is a Franco cheapie but the guy had an eye for such exploitation flare and the movie was lensed nicely, but of course there's plenty of zoom lens which Franco loved. Overall the PQ is great, grain is nicely managed, it's sharp, and the colors and flesh tones look natural, it's a great looking Blu-ray. I think it leans towards the greens but not unnaturally so. 

The only audio option on the disc is an English-dubbed Dolby Digital track, sadly we get no lossless audio option, which is unfortunate, but it's a capable lossy track with good fidelity. The dubbed English comes through nicely, with obvious dub limitations, and the Walter Baumgartner (Jack the Ripper) sounds good in the mix, there are no subtitles options.

These were released in the UK by Ascot with extras not included here what we do get is a 34-minute interview conducted by former Fangoria editor Chris Alexander with The Duke of Burgundy director Peter Strickland, whose film started out as a remake of Franco's Lorna the Exorcist (1974), he ended up going another direction but the he's still a passionate fan of euro-cult and Franco in particular.
Then we get a VHS sourced trailer reel of Franco films and a trailer for the movie itself running two-minutes and change. 

Special Features: 
- 2014 Audio Interview with The Duke of Burgundy director Peter Strickland discussing the films of Jess Franco, conducted by Chris Alexander. (24 min) 
Original Theatrical Trailer (2 min)
- Vintage Jess Franco VHS Trailer Reel: The Oasis of the Living Dead, Demoniac, A Virgin Among the Living Dead, The Screaming Dead, Erotikill, The Invisible Dead 

I've been asking Full Moon to bring their Jess Franco Collection DVD releases to Blu-ray for awhile now, I'm not taking credit for it, just saying what I already knew, that I wasn't the only one clamoring for these to get the HD upgrade from a U.S. distributor, glad to see it happening with the release of  Barbed Wire Dolls (1976). I prefer Franco's more artsy and somewhat surreal erotic thrillers, She Killed in Ecstasy is still a favorite,  but I do love his seedier WIP films, from the game-changing 99 Women (1969) to this slice of sexed-up sleaze, it's all prime Franco to me.  

No one is safe when AMC’s hit television series Fear the Walking Dead The Complete Third Season comes to Blu-ray (plus Digital HD) and DVD on March 13th!


The Ones Closest to You Can Be Your Biggest Threat When Season 3 Comes to Blu-rayTM and DVD on March 13th 

Deception can be your deadliest enemy when Season 3 of “Fear the Walking Dead” – the companion series to the #1-rated cable series “The Walking Dead” – arrives on Blu-ray (plus Digital HD) and DVD March 13 from Lionsgate. As society collapses around them, the families must come together to survive the apocalypse and combat the deadly threats on all sides. Hailed as “the best full season so far” (Forbes), “Fear the Walking Dead” Season 3 stars Kim Dickens (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Gone Girl), Cliff Curtis (Risen, The Dark Horse), Frank Dillane (“Sense8,” Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), and Alycia Debnam-Carey (Friend Request).

When “Fear the Walking Dead” returns for Season 3, our families are brought together in the vibrant and violent ecotone of the U.S.-Mexico border. With international lines done away with following the world’s end, our characters must attempt to rebuild not only society, but their families as well.

The home entertainment release of “Fear the Walking Dead” Season 3 features audio commentaries as well as deleted and extended scenes. “Fear the Walking Dead” Season 3 will be available on Blu-ray (plus Digital HD) and DVD for the suggested retail price of $44.99 and $39.98, respectively.

- Audio Commentaries
- Deleted & Extended Scenes


Year of Production: 2017
Title Copyright: Fear the Walking Dead© 2017 AMC Film Holdings LLC. Artwork and Supplementary Materials are TM, ® and © 2017 AMC Network Entertainment LLC. All Rights Reserved. Package Design © 2018 Lions Gate Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Type: TV on DVD
Rating: TV-MA
Genre: Drama, Horror
Closed-Captioned: English SDH
Subtitles: Spanish
Feature Run Time: 711 minutes
BD Format: 1080P 23.98 High Definition 16x9 Widescreen 1.78:1 Presentation
DVD Format: 16x9 Widescreen 1.78:1 Presentation
BD Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio, French 2.0 Dolby Surround
DVD Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio, French 2.0 Dolby Surround





Based on the based on the Marvel Comics by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz and featuring a powerful, all-star cast — including DAN STEVENS, AUBREY PLAZA, JEAN SMART and RACHEL KELLER — “LEGION” follows the story of David Haller (STEVENS), a troubled young man who may be more than human. Diagnosed as schizophrenic as a child, David has been in and out of mental hospitals for years. Institutionalized once again, David spends his time with his chatterbox friend Lenny (PLAZA), a fellow patient whose life-long drug and alcohol addiction has done nothing to quell her boundless optimism that her luck is about to change. But a startling encounter with a new patient (KELLER) forces David to confront the shocking possibility that the voices he hears and the visions he sees may actually be real. A haunted man, David escapes from the hospital and with the help of a nurturing but demanding therapist (SMART) and her team of specialists’ unconventional methods, David embarks on an extraordinary journey of self-discovery that leads to a new world of possibilities...and a new level of unexpected danger.

Deleted Scenes
Fractured Reality: A Different Kind of Hero
Uncanny Romance
Production Design
Make-Up (Making the Devil with the Yellow Eyes)
Visual Effects
Costume Design

Street Date: March 27, 2018
Screen Format: 1.78:1
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0, French DTS 51
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Total Run Time: 409 minutes

Street Date: March 27, 2018
Screen Format: 1.78:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Total Run Time: 409 minutes 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

ROBOT WARS (1993) (Full Moon Blu-ray Review)


Label: Full Moon Entertainment
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: R
Duration: 72 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Albert Band
Cast: Barbara Crampton, Don Michael Paul, Lisa Rinna, Danny Kamekone, Yuji Okumoto, and James Staley

Robot Wars (1993) is set in the not-as-distant-as-it-once-was future of 2041, the United States is now known as the North Hemi, where in 1993 large areas of the country were decimated by an some sort of toxic gas event... and that's about all the backstory we get. One of the other super-powers of this post-apocalyptic world is the Eastern Alliance, represented by Gen.Wa-Lee (Danny Kamekona, Robot Jox)and his assistant Chou_Sing (Yuji Okumoto), both of whom have arrived in the North Hemi to do business with corporate greed-monger Rooney (Peter Haskell, Child's Play 2), the boss at a tour/tech company that runs tour groups to a 20th century ghost town,  Crystal Vista, located out in the wastelands. The tour groups are transported through the desert via a giant robot called the MRAS-2 - a giant mecha-robot in the shape of a scorpion, which looks way cool. This is the last of a series of giant robots that were once utilized in times of war, the MRAS-2 is piloted by the sexist 80's ma-cheese-mo of Drake (Don Michael Paul, Rolling Vengeance) and his wise-cracking copilot Stumpy (James Staley). The Eastern Alliance dignitary has arrived in hopes of purchasing mini unarmed versions of the mecha-technology for use in the Eastern Alliance territories.

During a tour trip to the Crystal Vista ghost town the MRAS-2 comes under attack by a group of wasteland raiders known as the "centros", who attack the giant robot with a laser canon. Drake blows up the weapon with the MRAS-2's own laser defense system, afterwards warning his boss Rooney against further tours, worried there could be casualties next time. Despite showing his boss tangential evidence that the Eastern Alliance may be aligned with the rebel centros the tours continue, upsetting Drake, who refuses to run tours, instead going into the wasteland on a reconnaissance mission, once again finding evidence of collusion between the raiders and the EA, but again Rooney refuses to acknowledge the threat for fear of losing funding for his mech-program, but of course there's collusion and the inevitable double-cross happens.
Slice of horror-hotness Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) shows up as a scientist named Leda who joins one of the tours, believing that the company is hiding something beneath the Crystal Vista ghost town. She plays a battle-of-the-sexes love interest for mecha-pilot Drake, but it's probably one of my least favorite of her roles honestly, it's very bare with no meat to it, she's just arm candy for the most part, but still a cutie. Also showing up is a reporter played by Lisa Rinna, another 90's cutie who went onto appear in TV's Melrose Place and a few even less interesting roles before becoming one of the bitchy, leathery-nags on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

The film absolutely delivers on what the artwork promises, which is not always something you can say about a Full Moon movie to be honest, but you definitely get two giant robots battling each other in the final ten-minute stretch, but the first 61-minutes are a bit hit and miss, but if you're a vintage Full Moon junkie and you love David Allen's stop-motion artistry there's a lot here to enjoy, plus you get Barbara Crampton!  

Audio/Video: Robot Wars (1993) debuts on Blu-ray from Full Moon in 1080p HD framed in 1.85:1, a new HD transfer derived from the original 35mm negative. Film grain looks natural and is nicely managed, there is some dirt and debris throughout, but overall this is very clean looking, with only minor instances of white speckling and visible dirt showing up occasionally, more prominently in the optical shots. 

Audio options include choice of English Dolby Digital surround 5.1 and stereo 2,0, there's no lossless audio option, typical of Full Moon's Blu-ray releases so far. The stereo is probably more true to the original presentation but the new surround options does give
David Arkenstone's score some nice buoyancy in the surrounds, no subtitles are offered on the disc. 

Onto the extras we get a brand new feature with Charles Band, "The Wizard if Wars: Remembering David Allen" which runs just over eleven-minutes, with the Full Moon impresario fondly remembering his collaborations with his friend David Allen who first worked on Band's Laserblast (1978), recalling his fastidious nature, suggesting the stop-motion animator might have actually thought one frame at a time, that he was so very meticulous.  

We also get a vintage 28-minute Videozone featurette, Band opens it up with some cool teaser artwork for the then upcoming Puppet Master IV entry, and then into the program proper with some cool behind-the-scenes and interviews with director Albert Bands, and the cast including Barbara Crampton, Don Michael Paul, Lisa Rinna, Sanny Kamekone, Yuji Okumoto, and James Staley. There's even a bit with the stop-motion special effects team of David Allen an Jim Danforth, plus optical editor Linda Linda Obalil gives a tour of the optical printer explaining how it works. The Videozone also has an interview with composer Richard Band in the studio while he works out the score for Doctor Mordred (1992), working out some musical ideas on the piano before going into the studio and laying basic tracks on a synth, recording it on a computer and playing back the semi-finished score to a scene from the film, it's actually a pretty cool piece, The Videozone is a finished up with a series of upcoming Full Moon trailers and finished up with actress Charlie Spradling (Puppet Master II) giving us a brief tour of music/video shops around L.A. and pointing out where you can buy a lot of Full Moon merch. Also on the disc is a five-minute Full Moon promotional video and some Full Moon Trailers.  

The release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork. The disc itself features an oddly-tinted excerpt of the same work, odd in that the red-purple tinting obscures the artwork. 

Special features:
- The Wizard of Wars: Remembering David Allen (11 min)
- Vintage 1997 Full Moon Promo (5 min) 
- Original Videozone program (28 min) 
- Trailers: Robot Wars (1 min) HD, Castle Freak (2 min) HD, The Dark Angel (1 min) HD, Puppet Master III (2 min) HD, Head of the Family (2 min) HD, Specters (2 min) HD 

At just barely 71-minutes long (with extensive credit sequences) the movie is hella-short but still manages to be hampered by some obvious filler that drags it down to a crawl in spots, this despite the fact that we have some awesome David Allen (Dolls) stop-motion animation. The robot miniatures are loads of retro fun, the artistry of Allen is undeniable and his special effects are absolutely the highlight of the film. The story itself is a bit uninspired, though it is competently directed by Albert Band, however, the best visuals come from David Allen's stop-motion work, not from Band or his cinematographer. It lacks the energy and visual design of Stuart Gordon's Robot Jox (1990), but it's a fun enough spectacle for a Friday night watch, I still have fun with this movie, and if you're a vintage Full Moon/Empire junkie like myself I know you are hoping that we get the other Full Moon giant robot movie on Blu-ray this year, that being Crash and Burn (1990) directed by Charles Band - c'mon FM, make it happen! 

Friday, January 12, 2018

NAILS (2017) (DVD Review)

NAILS (2017)

Label: Dark Sky Films

Region Code: 1 NTSC
Rating: R
Duration: 85 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, Stereo 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Dennis Bartok
Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Ross Noble, Leah McNamara

Irish horror film Nails (2017) is a slice of supernatural hospital horrors, opening with fit-mother Dana (Shauna MacDonald, The Descent) beginning her morning ritual pretty much the exact same opposite as mine, with a bit of yoga and then out for a morning run. My morning begin with a French press of French roast and then a commute to work and not much more, but this woman is very fit, and proving that the fit don't actually fair much better than the rest of us lazy slob she gets wiped out by a car while on her run and ends up in the hospital with crippling injuries. Paralyzed from the waist down and unable to breath on her own, she is laid up and recovering for a prolonged period of time, bed-ridden and weak.  

While there recovering she develops a friendly relationship with her orderly Trevor (Ross Noble), and is occasionally visited by her husband and teenage daughter. While she is unable to speak because of the breathing tube she is able to communicates through a laptop with a text to voice feature. One night Dana feels a presence in her room, she calls out (with the aid of her PC) for it to identify itslef but receives no answer, but we see a demonic presence in the room with her lurking in the shadows just out of sight. Before too long the long-finger-nailed apparition is tearing at her flesh when she is left alone in the room. She reports it to the hospital staff but no ones seems to believe her, attributing it to her state of mind following the traumatic injuries, even her husband and daughter have trouble grappling with the idea of a skin-shredding phantom of the hospital, but just the same the nightly attacks persist, eventually her husband ends up installing a security video system from which she can view her surrounding on her ever-present laptop, offering a smattering of found footage style creepiness.

MacDonald turns in a fine performance as the paralyzed woman trapped within her own body and unable to fend for herself, it's a deeply psychological performance, her inner struggle in painful to endure as the usually strong woman finds her self weak and without resistance to the evil force within the hospital. The creature itself gets a bit of backstory involving a former patient/orderly with a history of self harm and a collection of other patient's nail-clippings, it doesn't go too deep with it, but just enough to plant some narrative threads that don't really go anywhere. 

Aside from the skin-shredding hauntings we also get some family drama, her husband seems to have a side piece while she's laid up at the hospital, which causes some tension between the two, real or imagined is debatable, but it's real to her. The special effects for this one are a bit too digital, the gore is near non-existent, in it's place we get some surprisingly bloodless skin lacerations, but the film succeeds in creating a sense of isolation and helplessness, wrapped in claustrophobia with some decent hospital horror atmosphere. Not a high recommend, but a damn decent Irish horror entry that shouldn't be ignored. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017) (4K Utra HD/Blu-ray Review)

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack 

Label: Warner Bros.

Release Date: January 16th, 2018
Region Code: A

Rating: R
Duration: 164 minutes
Audio: English Dolby Atmos 5.1, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 

Video: 2160p UHD Widescreen (2.40:1), 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1) 
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto

Blade Runner (1982) is hand-down a top-five movie of all time for me, a masterful neo-nourish slice of science fiction that while bombing in the cinema during it's initial run has gone on to be considered a classic of the genre, and the damn thing only gets better with age, it's a yearly watch for me. Whenever the local repertoire cinema shows it my ass is in the seat. When it was first announced that a sequel was in the works some thirty years after the original I was NOT excited by the prospect, but that original director Ridley Scott was involved sort of peeked my interest. He didn't end up directing but a very talented director did, the maple-blooded Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) was tasked with bringing this to life, with a script penned by original Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher and co-writer Michael Green (Logan), recruiting cinematographer Roger Deakins (Fargo) and a score composed by Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk) and Benjamin Wallfisch (It)... the talent behind the camera is undeniable, and then talent in front of the camera easily matches that - for starters we have Harrison Ford back as Deckard, and Ryan Gosling (Drive) as a newer model LAPD Blade Runner, Agent K. 

The film is set in 2049 - thirty years after the original film - and Agent K is tasked with tracking and retiring older model replicants on who have gone rogue. At the start of the movie he's tracking down one such rogue, Sapper Morton (David Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy), the tag doesn't come easy but he ends up getting his replicant after a brutal, physical, close qaurteres showdown. Afterward while surveying the property he discovers the skeletonized remains of a woman replicant buried beneath a tree, an examination seems to indicate the skeleton belonged to a replicant who died while giving birth to a child, which was previously though not possible. K's commanding officer at the LAPD, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright, Wonder Woman) orders him to track down the child if it still lives and to kill it, to erase all traces of the possibility that a relicant could procreate through normal sexual means, feeling that the revelation could lead to a new war between humans and the replicants. 

His search for the child leads him to the Wallace Corporation (formerly the Tyrell Corp.) through which he can trace the DNA from the skeleton to that of Rachel (Sean Young, Dune) from the original film, the search inquiry draws the attention of Wallace Corp. CEO, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto, Suicide Squad) who has been looking to mass produce replicants for off-world colonization purposes, the idea of relpicants birthing their own would greatly advance production capabilities. To this end he sets his personal assistant replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to secretively assist K in his search, hoping the agent will sleuth the whereabouts of the child, enabling Wallace to secure the secret to replicant procreation, which has eluded him.

The movie is a heady mixture of science fiction  themes and the world created nicely expands on the original film with further deterioration of the biosphere, an event that has killed off all non-human animal species, even trees have seemingly gone extinct, now mankind subsists on a diet of protein-rich meal worms. A dirty bomb has seemingly rendered Las Vegas a irradiated wasteland, and an EMP launched by replicants back in 2022 has wiped out all digital records from the past. The smog-shrouded environs of the first film are only more so now, and even the picturesque beach front community of San Diego has been turned into a dirty, apocalyptic scrap yard. There's some nice tech advances, replicant K has a holographic girlfriend named Joi (Ana de Armas, Knock Knock), and I found the exploration of their relationship one of the highlights of the film, this is something also explored in the film Her (2013) but this played better for me, and artificial humans relationship with a holographic A.I., fascinating stuff.

K is plagues by dreams of an orphanage, something he has always assumed were implanted memories, but while tracking the miracle child he discovers certain things that seem to imply he might be the same child he's searching for, it begs the questions whether K is the miracle child. All of this leads to K tracking down Deckard (Ford) in the Vegas wasteland, also seeking the help of Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), a woman suffering from an immunity disorder who designs replicant memories.

Hopefully I have spoiled to much here with the summary, Blade Runner 2049 takes it's time getting up to speed, sprawling out at a slightly overlong 164 minutes - nearly three hours - but even upon re-watch I was rapt my the impressive visuals and heady themes, this thing is enthralling. Ryan Gosling's signature cold detachment works so well for this particular character, his emotive face and wandering gaze capturing the essence of the character and his struggle to find the truth about himself. When Ford does show up the two have a decent chemistry together onscreen, it works a sequel to a seminal work and it also works as it's own story, which I never thought it would. I give some major kudos to the creative team on this one for crafting such a vibrantly dour future world, this things looks amazing, from the dystopian visuals to the very cool future tech this movie has some serious scope and world building in display. Considering this is a sequel I felt needed not be made I am suitably impressed by what we ended up with, a slice of sci-fi that inspires the mind and thrills the eyes at every turn. 

Audio/Video: Blade Runner 2049 (2017) arrives on 4K UHD and Blu-ray from Warner Bros. framed in 2.40:1 widescreen, looking wonderfully crisp and sharp, the slightly muted palette offers some zesty neon highlights and occasional moments of vivid imagery, it's a very stylized film with eye-popping visuals from cinematographer Roger Deakins (a Coen Bros. regular with many prestigious films to his credit), the 4K reproduces it very nicely, this is a knock-out in 4K.  

Audio options include 5.1 surround mixes in Dolby True HD, DTS-HD MA and Dolby Atmos, and all I can say is WOW! Gorgeous separation and use of the surround, the phenomenal score from  Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk) and co-composer Benjamin Wallfisch (It) is rather overwhelming, we get plenty of that signature Zimmer low-end digital thrum and some much appreciated nods to original Blade Runner's Vangelis score, combined with the opulent visuals this audio track delivers the goods, it has a wide range and is very dynamic. Optional English subtitles are provided. 

Onto the extras we get some good behind the scenes goodies detailing the design and casting of the film, and a series of brief Blade Runner 101 featurettes that give you a peek into the process behind certain aspects of the film. There are also three Animatrix-style prologues to the main feature, beginning with the 22-minute anime Prologues: 2022: Black Out directed by Shinichirô Watanabe (The Animatrix), a cool animated story telling the story of the '22 blackout and how it was achieved. Then we have Prologue: 2036: Nexus Dawn directed by Ridley Scott's son Luke Scott (Morgan), a live-action short starring Jared Leto with his character Niander Wallace demonstrating a new model of the Nexus replicates. A third prologue also directed by Luke Scott features Dave Bautista as his character Sapper Morton during a moment of conflict. Of the three the anime is the most essential, offering some background to the world presented to us in the film, the other two Scott directed live-action shorts are less essential, but cool character pieces. 

Special Features: 
- Designing The World of Blade Runner 2049 (22 min) HD 
- To Be Human: Casting Blade Runner 2049 (17 min) HD
- Prologues: 2036: Nexus Dawn (7 min) HD 
- Prologues: 2048: Nowhere to Run (6 min) HD 
- Prologues: 2022: Black Out (16 min) HD 
- Blade Runner 101: Blade Runners (2 min) HD 
- Blade Runner 101: The Replicant Evolution (2 min) HD 
- Blade Runner 101: The Rise of Wallace Corp (2 min) HD 
- Blade Runner 101: Welcome to 2049 (2 min) HD 
- Blade Runner 101: Joi (2 min) 
- Blade Runner 101: Within the Skies (1 min) HD 

Blade Runner 2049 was one of my favorite films of 2017, glad to see it get a stunning home video presentation with some cool extras. While this is a sequel I don't feel we needed, the original stands on it's own very nicely, against the odds, Villeneuve and his team assembled a stunning sequel, one that stands on it's own separate from the original while perfectly complementing it. I actually enjoyed so much so that at this point I'd be down for another sequel, maybe something on one of the off world colonies, or a prequel so we could see those attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion and the C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate that replicant Roy Batty so poignantly told us about in Blade Runner (1982), but that might be pushing it

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

IT (2017) (4K UHD Review)

IT (2017)
Label: Warner Bros.
Region Code:

Rating: R
Duration: 135 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Atmos TrueHD Surround 5.1, English DTS0HD MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 2160 UHD Widescreen (2.40:1), 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1)  
Director: Andrés Muschietti
Cast: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lilli

I grew up with a mom that was a rabid Stephen King fan, she read all his books and thus I was ensnared by the King-bug at a young age, I credit just having the paperbacks of Peter Straub, Dean R. Koontz and Stephen King laying around the house to fueling the horror-fire that began to burn within me from a young age. I will say that the expansive It novel took me about five starts to finally sit down and read through, it's not one of my favorite King tomes, but when the TV movie hit was broadcast in the early 90's I was very excited, I loved Tim Curry's portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and I though that  the Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: The Season of the Witch) did a great job for the era, limited by a TV budget and special effects that couldn't quite live up their aspirations, but Tim Curry was amazing as the menacing clown. Curry is near and dear to my heart having been Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Darkness in Legend (1985), just these three gigs alone have cemented the man as one of my favorites. When they announced that this particular King property was being adapted for a proper movie adaptation I wasn't as down on it as some, like I said, I love the TV mini-series but there was definitely A LOT of room for improvement, and when I heard that Mama (2013) director Andrés Muschietti was attached to direct I was even more excited about it.

Set in Derry, Maine in the Fall of '88 the movie opens on a rainy day with the story of stuttering Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) who while sick in bed has built a paper sailboat for his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), Georgie immediately runs outside and chases the boat down the street as it is carried by the fast moving current of the running water down the street, chasing it until it goes down a storm drain. Peering inside the drain George encounter's a creepy white-faced clown who introduces himself as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), enticing the young boy with the boat before biting his arm off with a gnarly set of multi-rowed teeth, and dragging the boy to his death down in the sewers, his body is never recovered. It's a great opening scene, I was in from the get-go, very well executed and creepy as all Hell.  Georgie's death destroys his family, his mom and dad are deeply grief stricken by the event, in their suffering they sort of grow distant from their surviving son, and he believes his younger brother to be missing but not truly dead, unable to accept the loss with an finality. 

Months later we discover Bill tagging along with a group of like-minded teen misfits at school, we have the mouthy Richie Tozier (Finn Woldhard, TV's Stranger Things), the asthma-inhaler sucking hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), and the timid Stan Uris (Wyatt Olef), all of whom are bullied by the local teen psychopath Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his gang of teen delinquents. The movie is set in the 8late 0's but has a serious Stephen King 50's vibe, both in look and in archetypes, the delinquents would definitely be the greaser bad boys of the story if it were in the 50's and they look of the era, too. The teen misfits acquire new blood by way of a new chubby kid named Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), a home schooled black kid Mike Hanlon (Chose Jacobs), and the ginger-haired Beverly Marsh(Sophia Lillis)  - all of whom are outcasts in their own right; Ben is fat, Beverly has been unfairly dubbed the local teen-slut and Mike is the outsider, a black kid schooled at home. The kids band together and dub themselves The Loser's Club, protecting one another from bully Bowers while suffering their own personal Hell's at home. I likes the backstories and home life of each as we look into their lives, poor Eddie's mom is overbearingly protective, Beverly's father is a daughter-loving perv,  and Stan is troubled by the stress of his upcoming bat mitzvah and a disapproving father.

The kids in the group begin to share stories of being plagued by the diabolical evil clown that lives in the sewers of Derry, Pennywise attacks them through their fears, Mike sees visions of his parents being burned alive, Richie fears clowns, Stan is haunted by the image of a strange painting in his father's office, Beverly is attacked by a blood-spraying hair clog, and Bill it tormented by visions of his dead brother, including a rather creepy scene of Georgie showing up in the flooded basement, being puppeteered by a submerged Pennywise. This scene in particular is one of my favorites, with Pennywise lunging after Billy, only to flop on the ground, his eyes rolls back like a python swallowing it's prey and he recedes back into the water - there's something so under-the-skin about that brief image, it just sticks with me. Another phenomenal scene has Pennywise emerging from a slide-projector image in a garage, it's great stuff.  

I know I've seen Bill Skarsgård in other smaller supporting roles but this is the breakout role for me, his portrayal of Pennywise is creepy, it feels to me like a nightmare version of Bugs Bunny, dressed as a Victorian era clown, his demeanor is delightfully absurd and gets right under the skin, he does this thing with his lower lip that is quirky and alarming for some reason, and I dig the make-up design of his visage, another scene of him again revealing his toothy mouth shows us the "dead light" to great effect, I loved most of the special effects here, in the cinema I sort of took umbrage with the shaky-frame effects used throughout but on 4K I took more of a liking to it. The movie sometimes gets knocked for not being R-rated enough, the gore is minimal, but this just isn't a story that requires a lot of bloodletting and guts so I had no issue with it whatsoever, the main focus is childhood fear, and it does alright in that respect.    

The film certainly captures that 80's Stephen King vibe with a 50's sensibility, sort of like Stand By Me by way of Stranger Things, a series that certainly mines the King aesthetic, perhaps the inclusion of Stranger Things' alum Finn Wolfhard as the mouthy Richard adds to that comparison, but I dig it a lot. This cinematic adaptations only covers the first half of the story when the group were kids, there's a chapter two on the way, and I couldn't be more eager to check it out, this was a knockout of a film and one of the best 2017 had to offer. 

Audio/Video: It (2017) arrives on 4K UHD and Blu-ray combo from Warner Bros. in 2160p UHD Widescreen framed in the scope (2.40:1) aspect ratio, and it looks stunning. This is a wonderfully crisp image, the details pop and the colors are vibrant. Close-ups reveal some very nice texturing and the Pennywise make-up is nicely detailed. Black levels are nice and deep with great shadow detail, the sewer scenes are wonderfully gross and damp feeling, accentuated by a strong and deep Dolby Atmos TrueHD audio presentation, the Benjamin Wallfisch (Blade Runner 2049) score coming through powerfully, and the surrounds get some great use on this one, a very nice spatial mix. 

Onto the extras we get some cool stuff for those inclined to watch 'em, beginning with Bill Skarsgard in the 16 min "Pennywise Lives" giving some insight into his portrayal of the demonic Pennywise, and how that thing he does with his lips is something he's done for years and was glad to incorporate it into the character. The kids come together in the "Loser's Club"  and speak of how they bonded during the production, becoming real friends, and low and behold Stephen King himself shows up for a real interview, the man rarely does extras/interviews for any of his adaptations, so this speaks volumes about how he feels about the movie, speaking about the how he created the character in the 14-min "Author of Fear", using the geography and legends of Bangor to craft his story, in addition to drawing on his own history of playing in the sewers. There's also eleven minutes of deleted/extended scene, the first one is funny, a gag-version of the opening scene that made me chuckle. There's also some more of the Henry Bowers stuff, making his turn from Bully to murderous villain slightly less jarring. A commentary from the director and writers would have been appreciated, I think it would have been interesting to go in-depth about the adapting process for this one, from a beloved book to a beloved TV minis-series onto the film, that's about the only thing I would have wanted that's not included.

Special Features: 
- Pennywise Lives! -  Discover how Bill Skarsgård prepared to portray the primordial creature known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (16 min) HD
- The Losers’ Club - Get up close and personal with the teenage stars of “IT” as they bond together during the production (16 min) HD 
- Author of Fear - Stephen King reveals the roots of his best-selling novel, the nature of childhood fear and how he created his most famous monster, Pennywise (14 min) HD 
- Deleted Scenes – Eleven deleted or extended scenes from the film (15 mins) HD  

It (2017) exceeded all my expectations, fast becoming one of my favorite Stephen King cinema-adaptations of all time - this was a blast at the theater and creepy as hell on home video. Warner Bros. put together a top-notch 4K release for home video with some fun extras, highly recommended.