Saturday, March 30, 2013

Blu-ray Review: THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970)

Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 88 Minutes 
Video: 1080p WIdescreen (1.78:1) 
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Cast: Ingrid Pitt, George Cole, Kate )'Mara, Peter Cushing, Dawn Addams
Tagline: If You Dare... Taste the Deadly Passion if the Blood-Nymphs! 

Synopsis: A female vampire with lesbian tendencies ravages the young girls and townsfolk of a peaceful hamlet in eighteenth century Europe who, years earlier, killed off her fellow vampires. A rousing hunt for the vampiress ensues as a group of men follow her bloody trail of terror through the countryside. Adapted from J. Sheridan LeFanu's novella "Carmilla," The Vampire Lovers stars Ingrid Pitt, George Cole and Peter Cushing.

Here we have the beginning of what would become Hammer Film's Karnstein Trilogy and it opens with a nice pre-credit sequence with vampire hunter Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) who witness a vampiress (Kirtsen Lindholm) rise from her grave like a creepy specter shrouded in flowing linens. She attempts to seduce the  Baron when she is stricken by the sight of his crucifix which comes into contact with her ample breasts, momentarily weakened the Baron thrusts a wooden steak into her dead heart and decapitates her with his sword. It's a great opening and quickly we know we're are in the good hands of Hammer Films, only a few moments in and we are already deeply drenched in copious amount of fog, creepy cemeteries, plunging necklines and undead beauty.

The 19th Century Gothic vamp chiller The Vampire Lovers (1970) thrust Ingrid Pitt into the spotlight as the libidinous, blood-thirsting lover of women, the story takes it's cues from the seductive vampire tale Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu and Hammer make the most of it's reasonably low budget to amp up the Gothic horror in this sexually charged entry. Pitt stars as Marcilla, a vampyric beauty whom befriends Laura (Pippa Steel), the naive niece of General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) in the village of Styria. It's hinted at not-so-subtly that the women are lovers, Laura is completely enthralled with the vampiresses beauty and falls to her unearthly charms quite easily. Her health begins to deteriorates after she begins having strange nightmares of a large, unnatural cat menacing her, the girl's family is helpless to stop the mysterious illness that has befallen her and as the life-force quickly ebbs from her pale body Marcilla disappears leaving the General grieved at the loss of his beloved niece. 

A short time later in a nearby village Marcilla, now going by the alias Carmilla, arrives at the home of Mr. Morton (George Cole) and in a very similar manner befriends his daughter Emma (Madeline Smith). Emma is young and naive, just the way Carmilla enjoys, and it's not long before the women are bathing topless and chasing her around the bedroom in a girlish fashion, just one step removed from a pillow fight, they are mostly nude and intertwined in a steamy girl-on-girl love affair of the flesh and blood. The nightmares of a menacing cat plague Laura and so to does her health begin to fade. When two small puncture wounds present themselves on Laura's breast her governess Mademoiselle Perrodot (Kate O'Mara) and the butler Mr. Renton (Harvey Hall) suspect something supernatural has befallen their home and set out to destroy the vampiress. 

The Vampire Lovers is a film that's drenched in sexuality, it was by most accounts  the film that played up the sensual eroticism of the vampire film, not only in it's sequels but echoed in the films of Spanish auteur Jess Franco and French eroticist Jean Rollin. So, please let's take a moment to offer a deep debt of gratitude to novelist Sheridan Le Fanu, screenwriter Tudor Gates and director Roy Ward Baker for making eroticised lesbian vampires chic, not to mention to the vivacious Ingrid Pitt and the wide-eyed Madeline Smith for making such wondrous spectacle, whose nude scenes are truly a feast for the eyes. Horror cinema legend Peter Cushing's participation amounts to what is in effect a bookend cameo at the start and end of the film, he has a much more significant role in the final film of the trilogy Twins of Evil (1971) as witchhunter Gustav Weil but his presence here is appreciated. 

As a Hammer film we get everything one could want, a period-set Gothic chiller steeped in fog-drenched atmosphere, spooky cemeteries, eerie woods, crumbling castles, plunging necklines and even a few gruesome decapitations with the occasional spurt of blood as sexy vamps either drain a victim or take a wooden steak to the heart, a very entertaining watch. It won't unseat the brilliantly bizarre Vampire Circus as my Hammer of choice but it's right up there with the best of 'em. 

Blu-ray: The Vampire Lovers (1970) comes to Blu-ray from Shout! Factory imrpint Scream Factory with a AVC encoded 1080p transfer in Widescreen (1.85:1). The print used for the HD Master is not exactly flawless and there are quite a few instances of print damage throughout ranging from minor white specks to scratches, the image is not overly sharp and is a bit soft at times. I found that the colors just weren't dazzling me but that's what one might expect from a forty-three year old film. When compared to Synapse's releases of both Twins of Evil (1971) and Vampire Circus (1971) I think this transfer falls a bit below that admittedly high watermark. 

The English language DTS-HD Master Audio Mono has a limited sonic range with little depth but offers decent fidelity with only the occasional appearance of background noise and crackling, overall it's quite a good listen with well balanced dialogue, effects and Harry Robertson's score.

Onto the special features we get a nice assortment beginning with an Audio Commentary with Roy Ward Baker (Director), Tudor Gates (Writer) and Ingrid Pitt (Carmilla) moderated by Jonathan Sothcotta - it's pretty decent, not sure when it was recorded but the participants do seem to be getting on in years, it's informative and fun, particularly Ingrid Pitt's reflections on the film and her recollection of Peter Cushing's suffering following the loss of his beloved wife, she sounds nearly in tears as she tells the story and it was deeply affecting to listen to it. I was humored by the fact that both Pitt and Ward insist that there are only suggestions of lesbianism, that it's there only if you want to see it, apparently I really wanted to see it, ha ha. Then into the Ballyhoo Motion Pictures produced featurette Femme Fantastique: Ressurecting the Vampire Lovers (9:52) featuring clips from the film and behind-the-scenes pics with interviews from film historians Ted Newson, John-Paul Checckett, Kim Newman Wayne Kinsey and Eric Hoffman. Great stuff, at just under 10 minutes they cram quite a bit of info into it. Ballyhoo produced a feature-length documentary on Synapse Twins of Evil Blu-ray called The Flesh and the Fury: X-Posing Twins of Evil which explores Hammer's Karnstein Trilogy in depth featuring many of the same talking heads, I highly recommend a viewing of it. Interview with Madeline Smith (20:35) is a new interview with starlet Madeline Smith whom portrayed Emma is the film, she candidly discusses the film and her own virginal naivety during the shooting as well as heaping on the praise of director Roy Ward Baker. Next up is a neat audio feature, Excerpts from the novella Carmilla, read by Ingrid Pitt (12:05) as the starlet does just that, recorded in 2003 it's a seductive and breathy reading accompanied by short clips and a gallery of stills from the film. The last of the extras are a Photo Gallery (8:18) accompanied by score from the film, a Theatrical Trailer (2:18) and Radio Spot (0:51)

Special Features:

- Feature Length Commentary with Roy Ward Baker (Director), Tudor Gates (Writer) and Ingrid Pitt (Carmilla) moderated by Jonathan Sothcott
- Femme Fantastique: Ressurecting the Vampire Lovers (9:52) 

- Excerpts from the novella Carmilla, read by Ingrid Pitt (12:05)
- Photo Gallery (8:18)
- Interview with Madeline Smith (Emma) (20:35) 

- Theatrical Trailer (2:18)
- Radio Spot (0:51) 

Verdict: An entertaining erotic-vamp entry and a great Hammer submission, the more 1080p Hammer we get the more I love it - please don't stop anytime soon! A very nice edition from Scream Factory who've made quite a name for themselves this past year with wonderful HD presentations of genre favorites that are jam-packed with extras, a very pleasing edition with quality supplements. The Vampire Lover's (1970) on Blu-ray from Scream Factory is a no-brainer for Hammer horror hounds, get it.  3.5 Outta 5

Thursday, March 28, 2013

DVD Review: SCANNERS (1980)

SCANNERS (1980) 
Label: Second Sight Films
Region Code: 2 PAL
Rating: 18 Certificate
Duration: 99 Minutes
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.85:1) 1080p
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0, 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Lawrence Dane, Stephen Lack, Michael Ironsides, Patrick MaGoohan
Tagline: Their thoughts can kill!

Synopsis: Drifter Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack, Dead Ringers) is plagued by incessant voices in his head unaware that he is a Scanner, a group of people with extraordinary powers who can not only read minds but literally tear them apart. He is discovered by a scientist aiming to help his kind adapt to society. However an underground movement of Scanners led by the psychotic Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside, Visiting Hours)have other intentions and the ultimate confrontation of minds awaits.

Pretty sure Scanners (1980) was my introduction to the twisted world of Canada's finest purveyor of the perverse and grotesque, even before taking in David Cronenberg's drippy remake of The Fly (1986), it was this blood-splattered telekinetic nightmare that made my skin crawl, it was disturbing to me then and it gets under my skin even today. 

"Scanners" are a small percentage of the population that possess both telekinetic and telepathic powers. Not just the ability to read a persons mind but the ability to control them, some are so powerful they can stop a person's heart or much worse. A side effect of this ability is that most are unstable individuals and are not productive members of society, as one might imagine the novelty of hearing a person's most intimate secrets might lose it's luster when in public you are subjected to hundreds of thoughts at a time, unable to control the input. One such person is drifter Cameron Vale whom sends a woman who speaks poorly of him into violent convulsions, nearly killing her. His outburst is observed by members of a corporation called ConSec, run by Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner), whom rounds up out of control telepaths in an effort create an army of weaponized scanners. He's pursued and darted with a tranquilizer and recruited into ConSec's scanner program where he is assigned to infiltrate the scanner underground and to destroy the telekinetic-terrorist Darryl Revok, played by cult-icon Michael Ironside, that's the film in a nutshell. 

An early iconic scene has ConSec performing a public demonstration of "scanning" when their lead scanner asks for a volunteer from the audience, unbeknownst to him the renegade Revok is in attendance and volunteers to be read. On stage in front of the crowd Revok exerts his considerable telekinetic ability upon the scanner causing his head to explode in what is still one of the greatest head explosions ever, it's superbly executed effect and quite grotesque. 

Brian De Palma's film The Fury (1978) mines similar ground but Cronenberg's film rises above De Palma's puzzling entry with some tense scanner battles, car chases and bloody gun play, there's no shortage of action and intrigue and layered on top of that are superb special effects work from the legendary Dick Smith (Star Wars, Exorcist) and make-up effects artists Stephen Dupuis (Robocop, JasonX), grotesque bulging veins spewing blood, exploding eyes, incineration and the aforementioned exploding head, if you love 'em bloody and practical the special effects here are above par and do not disappoint.

I have a few small qualms with the film, for one the story gets convoluted at times, a flaw which rears it's ugly head from time to time but not as much as one might expect given that the film began production without a finished script. Stephen Lack is just alright as the lead character, he's a bit aloof and not the most charismatic guy, it's not ruinous just a bit unfortunate. Michael Ironside is superb as the villainous Revok, on par with some of his best stuff, love that guy.  Lawrence Dane is appropriately menacing as the ConSec chief of security, though his death scene was less than extraordinary in a film laced with memorable deaths. At the start of the film we get a fantastic brain-bust and it climaxes with something equally grotesque, it's a finale that does not disappoint.   

DVD: Second Sight Films brings David Cronenberg's Scanners (1980) to the UK with a Region 2 locked edition that presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with strong color saturation and decent black levels. I didn't have by Region 1 MGM edition handy for comparison's sake but was pleased with the image, sourced from a very fine print with minimal print damage, it's appropriately crisp given the age of the film, not much of anything to complain about here. Audio options include English language Dolby Digital 2.0 and a 5.1 Surround mix with optional English subtitles. Dialogue is crisp and effects and score are well balanced throughout. Due to this being an NTSC to PAL convert there is the 4.2% PAL speed-up which renders the pitch a bit higher and running time a bit shorter which converts a 104 minute film into a 99 minute film but it's honestly was not noticeable to me. That said, this makes for a good argument to adopt a region-free Blu-ray player as the 1080p format does not suffer the same speed-up issues and must look amazing. 

The audio and video presentation is quite nice but the reason I would recommend an upgrade to Second Sight's edition are the inclusion of new Severn Films produced extras, five interview with cast and crew from the film intercut with behind-the-scenes pics and clips from the film. First up is My Art Keeps Me Sane - Interview with Star Stephen Lack (22:48) an interview with star Stephen Lack speaking about his experiences on the film and his life as an artist both past and present. The Eye Of Scanners - Interview with Cinematographer Mark Irwin (14:34) features the cinematographer, whom also lensed Funeral Home (1981) and Wes Craven's Scream (1996), he covers a lot of ground beginning with starting the film without a script, Cronenberg really having to sculpt a performance out of the inexperienced Stephen Lack, and a fun anecdote about actress Jennifer O'Neill and her then husband and a trained attack dog, that was a fun one. The Chaos of Scanners - Interview with Executive Producer Pierre David (13:09 features the storied producer of the film covering some of the same ground, if perhaps from a different perspective, remembering O'Neil a bit more fondly than Irwin. He goes on to compare the disjointed making of Scanners and it's ensuing success in contrast to Videodrome's failure at the box office following it's smooth production. Pierre also goes onto discuss the sequels to some degree including a young and naive Cronenberg selling off the rights to the franchise,  Pierre would go on to direct one of the later entries to Cronenberg's dismay. Exploding Brains and Popping Veins - Interview with Makeup Effects Artist Stephan Dupuis (9:34) has the regular Cronenberg collaborator Dupuis talking about the film's fantastic effects work, working with Chris Walas and special effects legend Dick Smith. The last extra is Bad Guy Dane - Interview with Actor Lawrence Dane (5:18) as the aging star offers an appreciation of Cronenberg and co-stars Lack and MaGoohan among others. 

Notably missing are contributions from the director himself, an audio commentary, and any trailers for the film which is unfortunate, I recall seeing a TV spot for the film as a kid and it was startling stuff. It'd be a few years before I actually saw the film but that trailer stuck with me. So, there's a few things I would have have liked to been included but what we get is great stuff, a great edition from Second Sight Films! 

Special  Features:

· My Art Keeps Me Sane - Interview with Star Stephen Lack (22:48)
· The Eye Of Scanners - Interview with Cinematographer Mark Irwin (14:34)
· The Chaos of Scanners - Interview with Executive Producer Pierre David (13:09)
· Exploding Brains and Popping Veins - Interview with Makeup Effects Artist Stephan Dupuis (9:34)
· Bad Guy Dane - Interview with Actor Lawrence Dane (5:18) 

Verdict: A true Cronenberg cult-classic with great dark atmosphere and classic 80's splatter moments, an iconic slice of drive-in awesomeness that moved Cronenberg away from his more exploitative 70's output like Rabid (1977) and more in the direction of experimental arthouse horror. Scanners (1980) stands as a dark, moody telekinetic nightmare with some great effects work, the practical effects are amazing and worth the price of admission alone. Second Sight's edition sports some interesting extras and a great transfer, definitely worth the upgrade. 3.5 Outta 5

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Blu-ray Review: CHRISTINE (1983)

Christine (1983)
The Limited Edition Series

Label: Twilight Time DVD

Region: Region FREE
Rating: R
Duration: 110 Minutes
Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Blosson
Tagline: How Do You KilL Something That Can't Possibly Be Alive? 

John Carpenter's 1983 adaptation of Stephen King's novel Christine starts off fantastically, with the revving of an engine and the razor bad ass bite of George Throrogood's "Bad to the Bone". The setting is a 50's era Detroit car production plant where '58 Plymouth Furies are rolling off the assembly line, before the scene is finished one man's hand will be mangled and another lays dead, the car's not even off the production line and already a malevolent force is out for blood, it's a great opener. 

Christine (1983) has always smacked to me a bit of Dan Curtis's film Burnt Offerings (1976) wherein a decrepit old house possesses and consumes an entire family, particularly the matriarch played by Karen Black. The evil house consumes and feeds upon the inhabitants fear, the further the family spirals out of control the more opulent the formrlydecrepit home becomes, rebuilding itself one shingle at a time, at one point literally shedding it's skin. That's very much what we have here, as the classic American nerd Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon, De Palma's Dressed to Kill), who comes complete with taped up thick-rimmed glasses,  spots the rusting carcass of a '58 Plymouth Fury for sale. The owner George LeBay (Roberts Blossom) sells the rusted deathtrap to Arnie for $250. Arnie's unlikely jocular best friend Dennis (John Stockwell) fruitlessly attempts to dissuade the transaction but Arnie is oddly drawn to the car. Dennis himself drives a sweet '68 Dodge Charger and Arnie wants a sweet car of his own, but there's something more to it, he's seduced by the car almost immediately. LeBay reveals the name of the car as Christine and tells of his departed brother's tragic devotion to her. Blossom is fantastic as the creepy coot, too. Christine has no shortage of interesting characters, from Harry Dean Stanton's Det. Rudy Junkins to Arnie's mother, portrayed sternly by 70's  TV actress Christine Belford. One of the more menacing characters is the switchblade wielding, John Travolta-esque Buddy Repperton who taunts the awkward Arnie along with his cohorts Moochie, Richie and Don, Arbie refers to this foursome as "the shitters". 

When Arnie arrives home with the wreck his mother is less than pleased with his purchase and in the ensuing argument it is decided that the car may not take up space in the family driveway, forcing Arnie to take the decrepit Christine to Darnell's Do It Yourself Garage where we meet the cantankerous proprietor Will Darnell (Robert Prosky, Gremlins 2: The New Batch), a greasy jowled curmudgeon who upon seeing the car pull into the garage trailing an oily fog tells Dennis "Kiddo, you sold him that piece of shit, you oughta be fuckin' ashamed of yourself" and when Dennis retorts that he tried to talk him out of it Darnell's response is "You shoulda' tried harder". 

Only Arnie seems to see what inner beauty the wreck might hold and sets about restoring Christine to her original beauty salvaging parts from Darnell's wrecking yard, the further along into the restoration the more Arnie is consumed by the car, running his hands over her body like the curves of a woman. His confidence grows, his eyesight mysteriously improves and  his style changes, too. He begins to the dress the part of a late-50's teen, he listens to 50's music and starts dating a pretty young girl, Leigh (Alexandra Paul, Dragnet). 

Consumed by Christine Arnie distances himself from Dennis and his relationship with the parents is strained, devolving into nightly spates of vulgarity, at one point even wrapping his hands around his father's neck. The once dweeby nerd has become something of an anti-social asshole. Concerned for his friend Dennis returns to the home of LeBay in search of answers and the creepy codger reveals that his brother Roland, his wife and even their young daughter all died in the car, apparently Christine's appetite for blood did not end at the factory.

When Arnie shows up at the highschool football game with a cherried out Christine and the cute Leigh on his arm it so distracts Dennis that he gets pummeled on the football field with a career ending injury, it also catches the attention of Buddy Repperton and his gang of toughs whom are dismayed that Arnie should have such a gorgeous hot-rod, their jealousy  sets in motion a series of events that ill lead to a lot of fatalities. 

While at the drive-in with Leigh the car reveals itself as quite a jealous bitch, after an intense make-out session in Christine Leigh chokes on her cheeseburger, the doors lock preventing Arnie from getting in to assist her, the dashboard lights up with an unearthly glow as she nearly dies, it's great stuff. That same night Repperton and the band of teen thugs visit Darnell's garage and reek some destruction upon Christine, they completely ruin her. It's the I Spit on Your Grave (1978) of car destruction, she's utterly destroyed. Windows are busted, the body is smashed, the vinyl has been slashed and adding insult to injury Moochie  leaves a steaming turd on the dashboard. 

The event traumatizes Arnie, he vents his frustration on his parents and even on poor Leigh who only tries to console him. He returning to the garage later that night in an attempt to restore Christine spoiled beauty. However, the vehicle reveals to him that it can restore itself in a fantastic series of shots. Arnie steps back from the car and says "okay, show me" to the cue of a brilliant John Carpenter synth score, the headlights flicker to life with some great lens flare and with a stroke of special effects magic the car restores itself to mint condition.

At this point we know 100% that something supernatural is happening, if we hadn't already, before this you could maybe assume the former tragedies were unfortunate coincidence, that a short in the wiring spurred the radio to switch on and off, but from here there can be little doubt, Christine and Arnie are intrinsically joined by some malevolent force and neither will sit idly by and forget about the insult perpetrated upon her by Buddy and the other shitters of the world. 

The first to go is Moochie whom is chased down an alleyway, he takes refuge in the narrow relief of a loading dock too slim for Christine to traverse but he's wrong. The car's engine roars in defiance, wheel sending up plumes of white smoke, sparks flying as she squeezes through the passageway peeling back her  side panels to crush the young man who shit upon her dashboard. 

A later sequence  features Christine giving chase to Buddy, Richie and Don in Buddy's '67 Chevy Camaro. The chase culminates  at a service station, the teens flee the car for the safety of the garage just as the vengeful car spears the camaro, crushing it, pushing it into the station crushing Richie and rupturing a fuel tank that sends the entire station up in an enormous fireball incinerating Don. Outside Buddy witnesses the inferno and against belief Christine emerges engulfed in flames and continues her pursuit. It's a haunting scene in the pitch black of night as the fiery '58 Fury runs Buddy down leaving a burning corpse as she continues on down the road like a fiery nightmare. The car returns to Darnell's where Will witnesses the charred classic return to it's bay, grabbing his shotgun to investigate the car claims yet another victim as the curmudgeon is crushed to death behind the steering wheel.

With the perpetrators of the car-rape dealt with appropriately the focus of the film now centers around the alliance of Leigh and Dennis whom are no longer willing to stand by and let Christine consume their friend Arnie. The final showdown happens at Darnell's garage and ends with Arnie being thrown through the windshield of Christine as she attempts to kill Leigh. Arnie's impaled with a shard of glass, the wound is fatal, and with his dying breath he gently caresses Christine's chrome grill one last time. Enraged by Arnie's dead, Christine, ever the jealous and bloodthirsty companion, reconstitutes herself enough to go after Leigh one last time, it's Dennis whom stops the haunted ride with the assistance a vintage bulldozer, he mounts the cursed car, crushing it beyond repair, bringing it's reign of terror to an end. 

Christine is a timeless film, this is classic piece of Americana horror from John Carpenter and perhaps the only one of his director-for-hire films that maintains his cinematic identity, it's a lean muscular film with lots of rewatch value. Other films Carpenter directed for hire include the Chevy Chase comedy vehicle Memoirs of the Invisible Man (1992) and the remake of Village of the Damned (1998) with Christopher Reeve and neither film "feels" like a Carpenter experience, a lot of that has to do with the fact that he did not compose the score for either wherein with Christine he and longtime collaborator Alan Howarth bring the magic with an understated but very Carpenter-esqu score, so effective with just the right amount of menace and trademark stingers, the film also benefits from a fantastic oldies soundtrack with hits from Johnny Ace, Little Richard, Richie Valens, The Rolling stones and Robert and Johnny. 

Blu-ray:  Twilight Time brings John Carpenter's Christine to Blu-ray for the first-time ever with an MPEG-4 AVC encode presented in it's original scope aspect ratio (2.35:1). The HD master from Columbia-Sony is sourced from a stunning print with precious few if any defects. It's a wonderful presentation with nice, deep  color saturation, particularly the reds, Christine's cherry red body just pops off the screen. The film benefits from the 1080p upgrade with nice clarity, the fine detail is amped up and the film's natural grain has never looked better, this is a magnificent video presentation. The lossless English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sounds superb, too. Not the most immersive track but the surrounds do get some effective use. It's a crystal clear presentation that's well balanced, the 50's rock n' roll soundtrack and John Carpenter's score sound great, when Christine's engine revs up it was a bit startling, great stuff and we get optional English SDH subtitles, too. 

Blu-ray Menu Screen 
We get the very same extras from Columbia's special edition DVD ported over to the Blu-ray beginning with a nice Audio Commentary with director John Carpenter and star Keith Gordon whom has become a director in his own right directing Robert Downey Jr. in The Singing Detective (2003) as well multiple episodes of suspenseful TV programming such as Showtime's Dexter and A&E's The Killing. It's an entertaining track with not a dull moment. 

There are three featurettes Ignition (11:52), Fast and Furious (28:55) and Finish Line (7:17) that are sourced from the same interview with director John Carpenter, producer Richard Kobritz , screen write Bill Philips and stars Keith Gordon, Alexandra Paul and John Stockwell. each segment is peppered with clips from the film, behind-the-scenes shots. Combined at nearly 48 minutes it's a pretty comprehensive look back at the making of the film as Kobritz explains Stephen King offering manuscript of unfinished work to him to produce following Salem's Lot (1979) and what a big deal that was at the time when King was the unparalleled king of fiction at a time before the Tom Clancy and J.K. Rowlings of the world. He turned down producing Cujo (1983) to take on the very Americana Christine, also bringing John Carpenter onto the project following the poor box office The Thing (1982). Carpenter goes into the "birthing" scene at the top of the film, extolling the virtues of cinematographer Donald M. Morgan and shooting the effects insert shots to give Christine's Resurrection shots "more juice". The interviews with the cast are pretty enlightening and add to the overall enjoyment of the film particular Keith who speaks about the Carpenter's direction to sexualize his interactions with the car, flubbed takes and Carpenter keeping it lose on set. We also get 20 Deleted and Alternate Scenes (26:02) featuring an extended version of the bullies trashing Christine but it's easy to see why most of these were judiciously left on the cutting room floor. 

Exclusive to Twilight's Time's Limited Edition Blu-ray is the signature Isolated Score Track which showcases John Carpenter's sparse and sublime score. Worth noting is that Carpenter's score does not actually begin until almost the sixteen minute mark and is pretty sparsely used throughout the film Another signature item is the 8pg. Collector's Booklet with Julie Kirgo's illuminating liner notes, red-tinted screenshots and behind-the-scenes pics and the original theatrical poster. All in all a fantastic edition from Twilight Time, the only omission would be some Trailers, TV Spots or Radio Spots for the film. 

I do find it odd that Columbia did not see fit to release this on their own in greater numbers, Twilight Time's edition is a limited edition of 3,000 and is already out of print and demanding upwards of $100 on the auction sites, regardless more John Carpenter on Blu-ray is always a cause for celebration and I look forward to 1080p presentations of The Fog (1980), Prince of Darkness (1987) and In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

Special Features: 

- Audio Commentary with Filmmakers John Carpenter and Keith Gordon
- Isolated Score Track
- Deleted and Alternate Scenes (26:02)
- Ignition (11:52)
- Fast and Furious (28:55)
- Finish Line (7:17)

Verdict: A classic piece of Americana and an effective slice of r-rated teen horror, Christine is an underrated John Carpenter entry, one that's taken for granted after years of cable channel reruns. I think maybe it gets lumped in with many of the more mediocre Stephen King adaptations we've seen throughout the years but one deserving of celebration. It'd been a few years since I last watched the film and it's surprising how well it's held up these past thirty years, one hell of a haunted car ride. 3.75 Outta 5

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Nympho Diver: G-String Festival  (1981)
The Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection

Label: Impulse Pictures 
Region: 1 NTSC
Duration: 69 Minutes
Rating: Unrated 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Audio: Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono with English Subtitles 
Director: Atsushi Fujiura
Cast: Anzi Eri, Ezaki Kazuyo, Aono Rima

Director Atsushi Fujiur's Nympho Diver: G-String Festival (1981) is quite a departure from the dark erotic delights that Impulse Picture's have been putting out recently as part of the Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection. It's a departure in that there's still a ton of naked Asians performing sex acts, don't fret that my friends, but it's a pretty light-hearted sex-comedy that's brisk and entertaining if rather light on plot. We begin with a fun voyeuristic sex scene as a young man attempts to screw his beloved in a rather uncomfortable place... the front of a compact car with an audience, the young woman squeals in protest to her lover's lust only to protest just as fervently when he stops, it's goofy, sexy and fun and sets the pace for the film's 69 minute duration. The sparse story revolves around a seaside village once renown for its attractive pearl divers, apparently these "ama" or "girl diver" films are a Japanese cinema sub genre all to themselves, anyway, the once thriving tourism trade has waned increasingly through the years, there's but one girl diver left in town and she's a bit of an aging sea beast, too. In desperation the mayor hatches a scheme to increase tourism and save his dying village by recruiting sexy, young divers from the surrounding area. Towards this end his young, and rather horny son, recruits a few pretty ladies, all in their 20's, from disparate walks of life. There's a nice montage of the mayor's son, Nobou, awkwardly approaching each woman and somehow winning them over, it's all a bit slapstick and good bit of fun, a pleasant departure from the previous Nikkatsu features so ripe with bondage, rape fantasies and violent sexual desires. So, while it's a welcome change of pace it must be said that despite the fact that these films were dark and maybe a bit of a challenge to endure they at least had, for the most part, an intriguing story line you could follow and maybe even sink your teeth into, Nympho Diver however is pretty slim on story, and mostly cobbled together with copious amounts of nudity and goofy sexploitation, which is not an altogether unpleasant issue. Everyone is getting some here; the mayor, his son, even the local priest is balls deep in it. We get a little bit of every kink here, from voyeurism, to fetishes, the priest pleasuring one of the gals with a wooden stick, grown men in diapers, breast feeding, sex under false pretenses, a love triangle and then it somehow it all culminates in a bizarre g-string festival and a bizarrely somber headscratcher of an ending, weird stuff, but it's Nikkatsu so you just gotta expect that sorta strangeness going in my friend.

DVD: Not the most attractive film cinematically but Impulse Pictures' disc look pretty great on a technical level, presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) we get a great source print with precious few flaws. Colors are a bit soft but overall it looks quite good with decent black levels, it's a surprisingly crisp affair. We get a Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio track that's free of hiss and pops, dialogue, score and effects are well-balanced, there are  newly translated English subtitles for those of us not worldly enough to not need them, and quite honestly this is not really a film that requires dialogue. While the film is a bit disposable I am I am quite impressed overall with Impulse Pictures presentation of The Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection.

Extras are limited to the Original Theatrical Trailer (1:13) and the usual Jasper Sharp liner notes which accompany each of the Nikkatsu films, putting the film into context of the period, always an informative read.

Special Features:
- Newly Translated Removable English Subtitles
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Liner Notes from Japanese Film Scholar Jasper Sharp

Definitely a fun watch with ample amounts of nude Asian ladies, whom occasionally don g-strings, but are mostly just nude, with some fun low-brow kink and bawdy hi-jinx. Honestly, there's not a lot of re watch value here for me, none in fact, at the very least this was a fun break from the dark weirdness of the previous Nikkatsu films even if a bit sub-par. 2 Outta 5 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

DVD Review: SHADOW PEOPLE (2012)


Release Date: March 19th 2013
Region Code: 1 NTSC
Duration: 89 Minutes
Rating: PG-13
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (2.40:1)
Audio: English Dolby Digital with Optional Spanish Subtitles
Director: Matthew Arnold
Cast: Dallas Roberts, Alison Eastwood, Anne Dudek, Mariah Bonner 
Tagline: Now You Will See Them Too
In the Shadow People (2012) Dallas Howard, whom might ring familiar to many as the character "Milton" from The Walking Dead series, stars as late night radio personality Charlie Crow, host of the Night Shift radio program preaching the word of the paranormal and supernatural to late night listeners. On a particular night a young man named Jeff calls in with a tale of "shadow people". Jeff cuts him off thinking he's a loony but a few days later Charlie receives a package labeled "Read and believe" on his doorstep, inside are documents about experiments performed at the local Camden College by a Dr. Ravenscroft and his research of sleep hallucinations or some such shit. The next night Jeff calls again, this time he seems even more unhinged as he speaks about the shadow people, on-air a gunshot is heard through the telephone, at first we think we've heard an unfortunate live suicide but in fact Jeff shot at something in his room, presumably a shadow person.  Afterward he is committed to the hospital for psychiatric evaluation by his worried parents. Charlie's curiosity is peaked by the event and when he goes to the hospital to speak with Jeff about the incident he discovers that the young man has died mysteriously in his sleep.

Charlie is consumed by the strange death and the notion of the shadow people, a side effects of his obsession is that his long-struggling radio program has gained legions of new listeners as he devotes each show to the topic. Charlie is not the only one who's curious about the recent rash of unexplained deaths either, Sophie Lacombe, an investigator from the Center for Disease Control (Allison Eastwood) arrives on scene to investigate the deaths, which the CDC is labeling Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome and before you know it her and Charlie are sleuthing Dr. Ravenscroft's research, unearthing graves and even possible evidence of the existence of shadow people. As Charlie become more and more entrenched in the lore of the Shadow People he starts to notice strange things in the shadows of his own home and he starts losing sleep as he attempts to get to the truth behind the phenomena. 

I love the premise of the film, weird supernatural shadowy figures that paralyze and strangle their victims, a down on his luck radio-host drawn into the mystery, it's good stuff. Unfortunately the execution here is about as interesting as watching grass grow, the film starts of enticingly with a flashback to Cambodia in 1979 as a young boy hears the legend of the Shadow People and falls victim to their terror, the rest of the story is told as a sort of recreation of actual events peppered with "real" never-seen-before interviews with the actual people who lived the events, yeah fuckin' right! There's another film that does this recreation/documentary style similarly and it achieves the same level of success, the alien abduction travesty The Fourth Kind (2009) a film I really disliked, it's just terrible and this does quite a bit worse than even that film The Fourth Kind at least had a few tense and  somewhat cheap jumpy moments, this was just pure narcoleptic lameness, right when I thought something interesting might transpire it just put me back to sleep. The inter-cut interviews are the wort, took me right outta the film every time and rammed into this watch-paint-dry production are awful "character moments as Charlie dealing with a bitter ex-wife and an ungrateful (if pretty typical) teen son who at the very end of the film gives it a very quick flavor of The Ring (2002) but just a taste, not enough to do any good, there's precious little tension and very few frights to be found here.

Verdict: Pretty sure this film is based on the same events that inspired Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), a series of strange sleep-related deaths that took place in the Hmong community, there's definitely potential for an interesting story here it's just too bad it's such a bore. Watching this I was reminded of an episode of the 80's run of the Twilight Zone directed by Joe Dante (The Howling)  called "The Shadow Man", an episode about a menacing shadow figure that lived under the bed of a boy, it terrified me when I was twelve and had me checking under the bed for weeks, Shadow People just made me want to go to sleep. I've watched the Shadow People (2012) for you, now you won't have to. 
2 Outta 5 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

DVD: Review: THE ASYLUM TAPES (2012)

Label: Revolver
Region Code: 1 NTSC
Duration: 80 Minutes
Rated: Unrated
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0 Stereo 
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.77:1) 
Director: Sean Stone 
Cast: Oliver Stone, Alexander Wraith, Antonella Lentini, Monique Van Vooren, Oliver Stone

Synopsis: When a group of young filmmakers decide to visit an abandoned psychiatric hospital to investigate the terrifying rumors that surround an institution that was infamous for its inhumane treatment of its patients, they have no idea of the horror they will uncover. Ward after ward was used for a variety of invasive surgical procedures, some necessary, some less so. As their exploration takes them deeper into the bowels of the building, they find themselves trapped by supernatural forces that have no intention of letting them escape. As the night unfolds, they soon find that there is a fate worse than death. This is their footage. Everything is real.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: three young filmmakers armed with a camera spend the night in an allegedly haunted asylum... these are the tapes of what really happened. 

Okay so right from the start let's just say that Sean Stone's feature film debut is not the most original slice of celluloid, it's pretty rote even within it's own genre of "found footage" cinema, this entry particularly reminded me of a film from Singapore I reviewed a few years back called Haunted Changi (2010), it's a very similar premise, so much in fact I thought this might just be the English language remake of it, which it isn't.

As the story goes in October 2009, three young filmmaking friends enter an abandoned asylum named Greystone to explore for ghosts, sorta an impromptu Ghost Hunters expedition. Local legend have it that anyone who ventures inside Greystone will go either insane or vanish, there's also a legend of a spooky gray haired witch named Crazy Kate and dark shadowy figures called the Shadow Men, the building are said to be inhabited by the tormented souls who once lived and died there, exploited by the psychiatric profession and subjected to invasive surgical procedures like frontal lobotomies, hot and cold pressure baths and electro-shock therapy. The film has a bit of a clunk set-up, first we get Sean Stone, son of director Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers), playing a version of himself, it's just a bit of a jarring introduction to the film with out-of-context footage, a dinner gathering at the Stone residence where we first hear the legends surrounding the asylum and vintage newsreel footage that explain the location's history. So, maybe it's disjointed by design but I found it a bit of a cold start to the film, however, once our trio of adventurous spirit seekers arrive on scene things come together nicely, beginning with a drive up the spooky dirt road leading  to the asylum.

Once we get inside it's an effective little found-footage chiller, if a bit predictable to a point. We get a lot of the pre-requisite creepy shadows, tricks of light and dark and tons of  "did you hear, see, feel that?" type cliches so familiar to the genre. Remember, I warned you that it wasn't exactly a unique entry, but all in all the film works and even these stale genre platitudes are effective in Stone's capable hands. As the trio make their way through the dilapidated buildings they find creepy dolls, crucifixes and chained shackles, the last item is said to belong to an murderous escaped mental patient that stalks the premises, all of these things start to wear on the nerves and fray the adventurous spirit of our trio as they begin to jump at shadows, turn against each other and maybe even exhibit signs of what might be demon possession, or some such shit. Not the most original entry but as a found footage haunted house ride it was good fun as formerly skeptical young folks foolishly enter dark tunnels and find pretty much exactly what they wanted and then some. It's genuinely unsettling, at times I felt that familiar tightness in my chest that either means I'm about to have a heart attack or the film is thoroughly suspenseful, I am pleased to say it's the latter.

For a found-footage film the camera is pretty steady throughout aside from the chaotic scenes of running scared shitless while screaming down shadowy hallways, so it does feel like a found-footage film but it doesn't go completely nuts with the camerawork. There's also a creepy atonal score underlying the film, a nice touch even though it could potentially take you out of the moment and take away from the realism, but it's not too intrusive at all. 

DVD: The film is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and given that this is a found footage film the quality ranges accordingly from decent to not so great, probably by design, there are post-production digital artifacts, video distortions and the black levels are a bit of mess throughout, but like I say it's surely by design. There's are English language Dolby Digital 5.1 and stereo presentations, the surrounds are used well, dispersing creepy echoes, weird whispering, foot-steps and scary haunted house aural scares with eerie effectiveness. Sadly, this DVD is a bare-bones edition, the lone special feature is a Alternate Ending (1:54) which is interesting but wisely unused. It should be noted this is the region 1 Canadian edition of the film, there's also a Region 1 US version under the title Greystone Park available through Image Entertainment that has a few more extras on it.

Verdict: A effective and genuinely creepy found-footage entry with some great supernatural elements, it falters from time to time with some odd pacing and the usual "why the fuck would they do that!?!" moments but I rather enjoyed this one, a great asylum setting, some really decent acting and a fun shocker finale that I didn't see coming, fun stuff. If I was to sum it up in a generic one-liner it might be Session 9 (2001) meets The Last Exorcism (2010)3 Outta 5 

Amazon Link:

Sunday, March 3, 2013

DVD Review: FAIRY IN A CAGE (1977)

Label: Impulse Pictures
Release Date: March 12, 2013
Region: 1 NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 71 minutes
Audio: Japanese Dolby Digital Mono 2.0

Video: 16:9 Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Koyu Ohara
Cast: Naomi Tani, Hirokazu Inoue, Rei Okamoto

Set during the latter part of World War II,  sadistic Judge Murayama (Minoru Ōkōchi) is the corrupt head of the military police, the sleazy official uses his position to falsely accuse the stunning Namiji Kikushima (Naomi Tani), a wealthy woman, of using her Ginza jewellery shop to finance an anti-government organization. Judge Murayama has Lady Kikushima and her suspected accomplice (Hirokazu Inoue), a noted kabuki actor arrested. Once imprisoned Murayama orders  new recruit Taoka (Kazuo Satake) to torture her while her Kabuki accomplice becomes a sex toy for the judge's female companion. As the film progresses Taoka falls in love with Kikushima, at first he despises torturing her but slowly grows to enjoy the physical tortures, as his lust grows he becomes more unstable and fantasizes about freeing her from her captors so that he can have her all to himself. 

The film is a long series of tortures and humiliations, Ōkōchi as the sadistic judge is fantastic, even more so is Japanese "Rope Queen" Naomi Tani whom endures many physical torments, mostly by the way of exotic rope bondage which look exquisite on film as she is strung up and degraded through humiliation. Her accomplice is subjected to the wild sexual demands of his female captor, forced to endure fellatio and as punishment for disobedience. At one point late in the film both he and the Lady Kikushima are bound as an itch inducing liquid is applied to their genitalia, thrown together into a cell they grind against each other in a desperate attempt to relieve their uncontrollable irritations, weird stuff.

The film stands out apart from other Nikkatsu Roman Porno titles in that it is quite political, clearly taking aim at the corrupt judicial system of the era, showing that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and in this instance corruption manifests itself luridly and gloriously onscreen in a series of perverse sexual tortures for the amusement of the corrupt. Political statements aside it's also a gorgeous period piece that's rather well executed and the cinematography is quite fantastic, adding a nice layer of gloss to an otherwise sleazy goings on.

DVD: The anamorphic widescreen (2:35:1) presentation looks fantastic, this marks the first time the film had seen a home video release on either DVD and Blu-ray and I am only too sad to say that I am reviewing the standard definition DVD - it must look fantastic in 1080p HD. As it is the DVD looks great, sourced from the original 35mm negative the print is near flawless with precious few instances of dirt, debris or scratches. The color pallet is a bit subdued, heavy on earth tones, but the colors are deep, fine detail is nice and the black levels are quite nice, this must look quite a sight on Blu-ray. 

Main Menu
The Japanese language Dolby Digital mono track is also very clean and well-balanced. Dialogue is crisp and clear, the score from composer Hajime Kaburaqi sounds great, well balanced and free of distortion with an English language subtitle option. 

Special features are limited to a 4pg. booklet featuring original movie poster art and liner notes from Japanese film historian Jasper Sharp,  a regular contributor to Impulse Picture's Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection releases, this was a particularly good read putting the film into historical context as well as praising the particular talents of the Japanese "Rope Queen" Naomi Tani. 

Special Features:
- New High-Definition Transfer from the Original 35mm Camera Negative
- Newly Translated Removable English Subtitles
- Liner Notes from Japanese Film Scholar Jasper Sharp

Verdict:  Available for the very first time on DVD and Blu-ray Fairy in a Cage (1977) is a perverse and sadistic women-in-prison style period film featuring the stunning "Rope Queen" of Japanese pink cinema Naomi Tanio, a dark, erotic masterwork of sadism, titillating rope bondage, and degradation. This will be a scream for the fetish fans and perhaps the perfect grueling double feature to play alongside Salo or The 120 Days of Sodom (1976), both are notorious indictments of fascist society, depraved and controversial slices of cinema, this is by some measure my favorite of all of Nikkatsu's pink films, essential erotic cinema. 
3.5 Outta 5 



Label: Impulse Pictures
Release Date: March 12, 2013
Region Code: 1 NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 70 minutes
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: Japanese Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Yasurou Uegaki
Cast: Rushia Santo, Toru Nakane, Toshiyuki Kitami

Well, the wife stepped out for a bit so once again it's time to throw on another naughty pinky violence film from Nikkatsu's Erotic Films Collection courtesy of Impulse Pictures, purveyors of fine filth. This time out it's Yasurou Uegaki's Female Teacher: In Front of the Class (1982) starring the exquisite Rushia Santo as a young school teacher named Reiko at a very weird high school where the rape pretty teachers seems to be at the very least an extra curricular activity worth a few extra credits. 

One day while showering after tennis practice Reikio is assaulted and raped by a man wearing a stocking over his face, in the aftermath she is left a wet drippy mess on the floor of the shower, a clue to the rapist's identity is left behind, a nondescript puzzle piece. Reiko, for reasons unknown, does not report the crime, she instead sets about sleuthing the identity of the rapist herself, which leads down a head-scratching path of questionable decisions and further acts of rape, some of which turns arguably consensual after the initial shock of being raped! The film seems to attempt to explore the fetishistic aspects of rape, a subject that has curdled my milk, from my first viewing of Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs (1971) truly makes me squirm in my seat, call me nutty but it's just hard to enjoy rape. Given the option I would much prefer the rape revenge aesthetic of Meir Zarchi's I Spit on Your Grave (1978) wherein the victim is allowed to exact some much deserved revenge upon the perpetrators, with this film we get something quite a bit different. This entry of the Female Teacher series is a challenging watch, Reiko is raped but then she endures further rape, humiliation and even torture in pursuit of the culprit behind the initial shower room rape, it's weird stuff that falls into the realm of violent sexploitation, it forces you to squirm a bit while you digest the dark, erotic delights, if you can given the context of the sex acts. As with all the Nikkatsi erodoctions from Impulse Pictures this is a censored cut of the film. Japanese censorship laws at the time forbid genitalia and pubic hair, as such it demanded strategic placement of the camera or the more intrusive digital scrambling of the image, creating a white fog over the offending parts, the image of a snatch apparently so offensive but semen oozing down a woman's inner thigh apparently not quite so much, gotta love the Japanese kink. 

DVD: Impulse Pictures DVD presentation looks quite good presenting the film in it's original anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) presentation, transferred from a nice print with very few instances of dirt and scratches, colors are strong and black levels are decent. The Japanese language Dolby Digital mono audio sounds very nice, too. Dialogue is clear and the score comes through nicely, newly translated optional English subtitles are also available.

Special features are pretty slim, we get a very nice widescreen presentation, the original theatrical trailer and the usual informative liner notes from film historian Jasper Sharp, while short on features this is yet another solid release courtesy of Impulse Pictures. 

Special Features:
- Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1) Transfer
- Newly Translated Removable English Subtitles
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Liner Notes from Japanese Film Scholar Jasper Sharp

Verdict: This seedy slice of Asian perversion features quite an array of bizarre and dark scenarios that will have you scratching your skull, the material can be a bit challenging but there's no denying the allure of this lurid Nikkatsu rape-fantasy film. 2.5 Outta 5