Thursday, January 17, 2019

HORROR EXPRESS (1972) (Arrow Video Blu-ray Review/Comparison)

HORROR EXPRESS (1972) 

Label: Arrow Video 
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 84 minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Director: Eugenio Martin
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Telly Savalas, Angel De Pozo, Julio Pena, Albert De Mendoza, Silvia Tortosa, Helga Line

Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011)

Horror Express (1972) stars the dynamic team-up of horror icons Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula) and Peter Cushing (Corruption) in a rare instance of on-screen kinship, as opposed to their usual Dracula vs. Van Helsing dichotomy. The film also features a memorable appearance from the scenery chewing Telly Savalas (Lisa And The Devil) and Albert de Mendoza (A Lizard In A Woman's Skin) as a Rasputin-like Monk. This classic 70's thriller-chiller features a prehistoric alien creature that turns it's victims into eye-bleeding zombies on the Trans-Siberian Express, with sci-fi thrills that have kept this film in the hearts of horror fans for decades.
 Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 

Alexander Saxton (Lee) is a British anthropologist who has discovered what he believes to be the evolutionary "missing link" frozen deep in an ice cave in Manchuria. He crates this discovery and boards the Trans-Siberian Express bound for Moscow and then onward to England. At the train station in Shanghai Saxton runs into his British colleague Dr. Wells (Cushing) and his assistant Mrs. Jones (Alice Reinhart, Rat Fink). Shortly before the crate can be loaded onto the train a would-be thief is found dead after attempting to pick the lock of the crate. The thieves eyes have turned unnaturally white with blood streaking from his eyes, nose and mouth. 

Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 

This catches the watchful eye of Inspector Mirov (Julio Pena, Horror From The Tomb), the Polish Count Petrovski (George Rigaud, The Case of the Bloody Iris) and his stunning wife Countess Irina (Silvia Tortosa, The Loreley's Grasp ) plus their spiritual advisor Pujardov (Albert De Mendoza, A Lizard In A Woman's Skin), the latter of whom begins to suspect that something evil lays within the crate, which Saxton, a man of science, scoffs at outright.

Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 

With the cause of death unknown the crate is loaded into the train and the passengers board the Russia bound steam engine. After the unexplained death Dr. Wells becomes increasingly curious as to what mystery lays within the wooden crate and offers baggage man Maletero (Victor Israel, The Devil's Kiss) a small bribe to take a peak inside the crate at his next earliest convenience. Meanwhile Wells and Saxton accommodate themselves into their sleeper cars where Wells makes the acquaintance of an attractive thief by the name of Natasha (Helga Line, Horror From The Tomb) and we are then introduced to an engineer and amateur science nerd named Yevtushenko (Angel De Pozo, The Passenger).

Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 

Meanwhile Maletero is attempting to open up Saxton's crate when he is attacked by the thawed primitive creature inside who it turns out is somehow still alive. When Maletero stares directly into the beasts red-glowing eyes he is stricken with the same fate as the would-be thief; whitened eyes and hemorrhaging from his orifices. An autopsy is performed on the man by Wells and Saxton whom deduce that the creature is of alien nature and is inexplicably able to absorb it's victim's knowledge, so much so that it actually sucks the wrinkles right out of their brains ,leaving the vacant orb smooth as a baby's bottom, I love this sort of pulpy pseudo science! 

Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 

After a few more deaths the creature is shot and killed by Inspector Mirov, with the culprit seemingly no longer a threat, but when the killing of the trains more educated passengers continue Wells and Saxton further hypothesize that the alien threat is formless and able to inhabit the body of it's victims, leaving the men of science to sleuth whom among the passengers is the red-eyed, brain-sucking alien creature. Late in the film Telly Savalas makes an appearance as the larger than life Cossack officer Captain Kazan, he having been summoned to board the train with an attachment of officers by the Russian authorities after news of the murders is wired from the train. 

Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 

Savalas winds up momentarily stealing the show with his scenery chomping performance, it's fun stuff that adds a spark to the film when it really needed it. One of my favorite aspects of the film involves the monk Pujardov's seduction by the evil entity which he mistakes for Satan, already seemingly near mad at the start of the film with religious fervor he is completely seduced by it's dark power, it's great stuff and an intense performance from De Mendoza.

Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 

The film absolutely takes inspiration from John Campbell's seminal sci-fi story 'Who Goes There?', the inspiration for both Howard Hawks' The Thing From Another World (1951) and John Carpenter's remake The Thing (1982). The film masterfully isolates a core group of characters on a train speeding through an icy and desolate landscape, as the mystery deepens the paranoia is ramped up to the breaking point. The film is thick with atmosphere and this early 70's chiller is a grisly and macabre slice of sci-fi horror with a pretty steep body count for the day with no less than 15 by my count, plus the film gets pretty gruesome with a surprisingly bloody autopsy scene featuring Cushing's character sawing off a man's skull cap with a bone saw! At just unfder an hour and a half the film's well-plotted structure keeps the momentum moving forward with thrilling twists and turns, there's no point at which the story becomes stagnant, a very finely paced film.
Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 

Audio/Video: Horror Express arrives on Blu-ray from Arrow video with a new 2K scan of original film elements,  framed in 1.66:1 widescreen. The film has been previously been issued on Blu-ray from Severin Films in 20111. I think fans of the film looking for a more definitive A/V presentation of the film will be slightly disappointed. Severin's release was not without issues, it has some uneven grain, and what looked to be excessive DNR-ing in places, but comparing the Arrow version to it the color grading is very cold, skin tones are much cooler, there's a blue leaning to the Arrow color grading, as to where the Severin release is much warmer and richer with vibrant colors and a more pleasing contrast, the blacks also appear stronger and deeper for the most part on the Severin release, though there is some black crush evident throughout on the Severin disc and Arrow's red seem truer and less orangey.  Arrow's release uses the American title card, as where Severin's used the Spanish title of Panic On The Trans-Siberian Express.

Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 

Arrow have gone with an uncompressed audio track unlike the Severin release with went with only Dolby Digital in both English and Spanish, with no subtitles for the English option. Arrow have gone uncompressed but do not offer a Spanish audio option, but do offer subtitles. Dialogue is clean and easy to discern, the fuzzed out guitar score and haunting main theme from John Cacavas (Mortuary) sounds fantastic in the mix.


Extras kick-off with the 25-min Ballyhoo Motion Pictures produced 'Night Train To Nowhere' with filmmaker/historian Ted Newson who discusses the career with his friend Bernard Gordon who produced Horror Express, describing his career, being blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and his career afterward on many films, including an uncredited script for Day of the Triffids. He speaks about the casting of Christopher Lee, who was then instrumental in getting Peter Cushing on board, but Cushing, whose wife had recently passed, was bereaved and had a difficult time, nearly leaving the film until his friend Christopher Lee turned him around.  He also speaks about how this film, more so that The Thing From Another World, is a truer adaptation of the boom 'Who Goes There?'.


The 9-min 'Ticket To Die' features screenwriter/author Steve Haberman discussing the film, the evolving times in relation to horror during the period. He digs into director Eugenio Martino's career, the unique buddy-pairing of Lee and Cushing, and how entertaining the over-the-top performance from Telly Savalaz is, and touching on the cool sci-fi aspects and the special effects, how the film was received, and it's legacy.


Arrow wisely carry-over nearly all the extras from the Severin release, beginning with the 
7-min introduction by Fangoria Editor Chris Alexander in which the enthusiastic fan fondly recalls discovering the film on VHS, it's dubious public domain releases and delving into what makes the film such a classic. Alexander is certainly a fan, a bit annoying, but I cannot begrudge the man his love of this film. 

We also get the 14-min 'Murder On The Trans-Siberian Express', an interview with co-writer/director Eugenio Martin in which he recalls many facets of the film, including the cocktail mixture of adventure, terror ans science fiction, re-using the leftover train sets from the film Pancho Villa which also starred Telly Savalas. The director also speaks about working with screen legends legends Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and the difficulty of working with the contact lenses that whited out the actors eyes.

Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 

Another Severin carry-over is the 31-min 'Notes From The Blacklist', a 2005 interview with Producer Bernard Gordon whom discusses the McCarthy Era, with the producer recalling the tribulations of being a blacklisted writer during the McCarthy era, there's no mention of Horror Express but it's an interesting watch. 

Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 

The 8-min 'Telly And Me; is an interview with composer John Cacavas who discusses his friendship with actor Telly Savalas through the years and working on the scores for  Horror Express, Pancho Villa and the TV series Kojak, which all starred Savalas.

Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 


One extra not ported over from the Severin release is the 1973 audio interview with Peter Cushing that ran about 88-min. This interview was conducted not too long after the making of the film, with Cushing recalling his entire career up till that point, including his legendary work with Hammer and Amicus Films. 

Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 

As far as extras go I give the upper hand to Arrow Video for carrying over all the vintage extras aside from one, plus adding a new commentary and two new interviews. The A/V is a mixed bag we get uncompressed audio from Arrow but I think the Severin image, despite some reservations about DNR-ing, is the more considerably more pleasing of the pair, so in my mind there is no definitive version of this film. 
Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 

Special Features: 
- Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements
- Night Train To Nowhere with filmmaker/ historian Ted Newson (25 min) 
- Ticket To Die with screenwriter/author Steve Haberman (8 min) 
- Brand new audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
- Introduction to the film by film journalist and Horror Express super-fan Chris Alexander (7 min) 
- Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express – an interview with director Eugenio Martin
- Notes from the Blacklist – Horror Express producer Bernard Gordon on working in Hollywood during the McCarthy Era (31 min) 
- Telly and Me – an interview with composer John Cacavas (8 min) 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (3 min) 
- Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys

- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing by Adam Scovell
Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011) 


Horror Express is a chilling horror classic, a gruesome sci-fi thriller that can now be viewed in a manner befitting of such a classic, so say goodbye to your dark, scuzzy public domain prints, but I wouldn't be too quick to throw out that Severin release just yet, Arrow's release is stuffed with excellent extras, but its not the definitive version of this film in my opinion.

 Top: Arrow Video (2018)
Bottom: Severin Films (2011)






Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Poison Ivy Collection - Erotic Thrillers Make Their Blu-ray Debuts February 12th, 2019 from Scream Factory

THE POISON IVY COLLECTION

Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Duration: 91,106,94,95 Minutes 
Rating: R, Unrated 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD WIdescreen (1.85:1) 

The delightfully sleazy neo-noir Poison Ivy films make their Blu-ray debuts February 12th, 2019 as a four disc Blu-ray box set from Scream Factory. This collection of sinister psychodramas also includes a new audio commentary with co-writer/director Katt Shea, as well as both the rated and unrated versions of each film. Fans can pre-order their copies now by visiting ShoutFactory.com

Tempestuous young Ivy (Drew Barrymore) befriends introverted teen Sylvie (Sara Gilbert) and seduces her way into the lives of Sylvie's wealthy family in Poison Ivy. In the piquant follow-up, Poison Ivy 2: Lily, a sheltered art student (Alyssa Milano) finds Ivy's diaries and, after reading them, is lured into uninhibited risk-taking to become a wild woman! Then Ivy's sister (Jaime Pressly) visits the Greer residence in Poison Ivy: The New Seduction, and it doesn't take long for her to use her skills of manipulation to throw the household into a slate of panic and deceit. A college freshman (Miriam McDonald) is invited to join an exclusive campus sisterhood where cold blooded ambition causes the group to seduce, blackmail or do away with anyone that gets in their way in Poison Ivy: The Secret Society.

Special Features: 

Poison Ivy (1992) 
- Rated version of the film
- Unrated version (with standard definition inserts) 
- NEW Audio Commentary with co-writer/director Katt Shea(theatrical version)
- Theatrical Trailer

Poison Ivy 2: Lily (1996) 
- Rated version of the film
- Unrated version of the film (with standard definition inserts.)
- Trailer

Poison Ivy: The New Seduction (1997) 
- Rated version of the film
- Unrated version of the film (with standard definition inserts.)
- Trailer

Poison Ivy: The Secret Society (2008) 
- Unrated version
- Trailer