Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Blu-ray Review: BLACK SABBATH (1963)

Dual Format Blu-ray + DVD
Label: Arrow Video
Region Code: 2/B
Rating: 18 Certificate 
Duration: 132 Minutes / 135 Minutes 
Audio: LPCM Audio Italian and English with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Cast: Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Jacqueline Pierreux, Michele Mercier, Lydia Alfonsi
Director: Mario Bava

The Maestro of the Macabre rarely did it better than BLACK SABBATH (1963), a pulse-pounding trio of suspenseful vignettes drenched in the macabre and dripping with fright, it all adds up to one fantastic horror-themed anthology and the UK's Arrow Video have a new 3-disc Blu-ray/DVD that's sure to please fans.

After a camped-up and creepy introduction from fright icon Boris Karloff we get the the lesbian-tinged thriller "The Telephone", an early Giallo entry and also Italy's first color horror film. Rosy (Michele Mercier) is a young Parisian woman,  a call girl, plagued by a series of menacing phone calls from her former pimp who's either just recently escaped from prison or reaching out to her from beyond the grave, it depends on which version of the film you watch. Fearful for her safety she reaches out to a former lady lover Mary (Lydia Alfonsi) who arrives shortly after to soothe Rosy's nerves. This is a fun one, confined to the basement apartment Rosy is a bundle of shattered nerves and just maybe Mary's not the great friend she's made herself out to be...

A great start to the film, watch both the Euro-cut and the AIP version of the film for some subtle differences, one offering something a bit more supernatural than the other. Loved the performances from the actresses, it doesn't hurt that they're both stunning Italian women either, Mario didn't just have an eye for the macabre he also had a keen sixth sense for unearthly attractive ladies, too. 

Fright icon Boris Karloff returns in a starring role with "The Wurdulak", a Gothic horror that takes us from the swinging 60's to 19th Century Russia where a young nobleman named Vladimir Durfe (Mark Damone) whom whilst travelling through the countryside happens upon the headless corpse with a peculiar dagger plunged through it's heart. Keeping the dagger he continues on until he stumbles across a small cottage seeking shelter for the night, by chance the dagger belongs to the patriarch of the family. Vlad is told that the patriarch Gorcha (Karloff) has been gone for the past five days having left in pursuit of a wurdalak, a corpses whom feeds exclusively on blood of loved ones. The concern is that he might return as one of the undead, the family members are distraught though the non-superstitious Vlad is skeptical. When Gorcha shows up on the doorstep just after midnight his creepy cold and appearance would seem to indicate he's not the same loving father who left five days earlier. This is a pretty fantastic short that plays out wonderfully, drenched in atmosphere and fog, a great exploration of the vampire mythos and quite creepy. Karloff is fantastic as Gorcha, a terrifying and creepy figure bathed in moody swaths of colored light, this film really uses the colored lighting and shadow play to the hilt, thick blankets of wafting fog, creepy Gothic ruins, and another one of Bava's trademarks, a real spine-tingler of a face peering through a window! This is definitely a top five vampire story though not the best of the bunch, that's up next. 

The final chapter of the trilogy "The Drop of Water" riffs heavily on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart" as a Victorian era nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux) is called to the home of a deceased medium to prepare her corpse for burial, the medium apparently having died from a heart attack following a seance while conversing with spirits from the Beyond. Whilst preparing her corpse the nurse notices the attractive sapphire ring and pries it off her rigor mortised finger. Returning home the nurse is plagued by the sounds of dripping water and the buzzing of flies, and eventually the corpse of the medium appears to further terrorize her. The image of the dead medium is truly the stuff of nightmares, her contorted and waxy death face scared the bejeezus outta me as a kid and still sends a shiver down my spine to this day. "The Drop of Water" is fantastic, even Bava himself remembered the film as his greatest cinematic achievement and I would be hard pressed to argue, great stuff! 

The feature is concluded with more of the Boris Karloff wrap-a-round that takes the piss outta the film a bit. It's a nice bit of fun that pokes a finger in the eye of the serious chills we've just sat through featuring Karloff on a prop horse surrounded by men with branches of trees running around him to create the illusion of riding a horse, the artifice is revealed, it's a fun finale. It should be noted that the two version have a different running order, for the purpose of this review I watched the Euro version with the more impressive video quality. 

Blu-ray: Arrow's Blu-ray offers the outstanding anthology in 1080p with a MPEG-4 AVC encode, the Blu-ray features both the Italian Les Trois Visages de la Peur version and the English language American International Pictures (AIP) version which is about three minutes longer in length. The European version boasts the more robust and pleasing image of the two, Bava's colors pops, fantastic shades of lavender, blue, green and red bathe the film, it's rich visual tapestry, one of Bava's best looking titles still to this day and the new transfer, particularly the European version, is fantastic. 

The European version features the Italian language  LPCM Audio with newly translated English subtitles and a Roberto Nicolosi score. AIP's version comes with English LPCM audio and optional English subtitles. Aside from the AIP version having been re-edited it also features a re-score from Les Baxter, of the two I prefer Baxter's more aggressive score with it's accentuating stingers, the Euro version is a bit more subdued but both are very nice, it's just a matter of preference. It should also be noted that the two version have a different running order, for the purpose of this review I watched the Euro version

The three disc set has some great special features beginning with an introduction for the Euro-version from UK film critic and Alan Jones (2:53). Also exclusive to the Euro-version is a great commentary with Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas, whom typically offers a wealth of Bava-centic knowledge, his commentaries are reliably intriguing and this is no exception. A Life In Film – An Interview with star Mark Damon (21:01) features the one time 20th Century Fox contract player discussing his life in film and later career as a producer and distributor of film, some great stuff including his role in casting Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone's A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE which he passed on it, apparently the idea of an Italian Western was quite an odd idea at the time and his agent warned him against it.  My favorite feature on the set is Twice the Fear – A comparison of the different versions of the film (32:12) with a captioned, split screen comparison of the Euro and AIP versions of the films, showcasing the many variances ranging from subtle dialogue alterations to score and effects differences. For instance,  AIP version trims out the more direct references to lesbianism in "The Telephone", it's a great piece, and I would love to see a feature like this for the multiple versions of Ridley Scott's BLADERUNNER (1982).

Rounding out the features are  the International Trailer, US Trailer (2:23), Italian Trailer (3:18), black and white TV Spot (0:54) and a  Radio Spots (1:06). BLACK SABBATH gets a great set of features and a very fine AV presentation from Arrow Video, this 3-disc set is essential. Not included with the "check disc" sent to us  for review are the reversible artwork and collector's booklet featuring new writings from David Cairns, Tim Lucas and an interview Samuel Z. Arkoff. 

A flawless film in my opinion and a flawless edition, too. As of late the only detraction I can level against Arrows titles is that I am not a fan of the recent slipcase-style menu screens, I think they're rather ugly. Compare Bava's A BAY OF BLOOD with the menu screen from BLACK SABBATH and decide for yourself...

A BAY OF BLOOD Blu-ray menu with fantastic artwork. 
BLACK SABBATH Blu-ray menu screen with Arrow's slipcase-styled menu.
Special Features:
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of two versions of the film; ‘I tre volti della paura’ – the European version with score by Roberto Nicolosi and ‘Black Sabbath’ – the re-edited and re-dubbed AIP version with Les Baxter score, on home video for the first time
- English SDH subtitles for English Audio and a new English subtitle translation of the Italian audio
- Audio Commentary with Bava biographer and expert Tim Lucas
- Introduction to the film by author and critic Alan Jones (2:53)
- A Life In Film – An Interview with star Mark Damon (21:01)
- Twice the Fear – A comparison of the different versions of the film (32:12)
- International Trailer (3:26)
- US Trailer (2:23)
- Italian Trailer (3:18)
- TV Spot (0:54)
- Radio Spots (1:06)
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic David Cairns, a comparison of the versions of the film by Tim Lucas and a substantial interview with AIP Producer Samuel Z. Arkoff on his experiences of working with Bava, illustrated with original stills and posters

Verdict: A fantastic horror-themed anthology from the maestro of the macabre Mario Bava, it's still one of the most consistent and enjoyable anthologies in all of cinema, a timeless nuggets of classic fright and suspense. After the proto-slasher A BAY OF BLOOD (1971) this is my favorite Bava film, Arrow's definitive 3-disc edition deserves some serious praise. 4.5 Outta 5 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Blu-ray Review: MOTEL HELL (1980)

MOTEL HELL (1980) 

Dual Format Blu-ray + DVD
Label: Arrow Video
Region Code: 2/B
Rating: 18 Certificate 
Duration: 101 Minutes 
Audio: English LPCM Audio with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Kevin Connor
Cast: Rory Calhoun, Paul Linke, Nancy Parsons

Synopsis: “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent fritters!” cackle the brother-and-sister team behind the finest smoked meats in the county. They also run the friendly Motel Hello (the ‘o’ in the neon sign sometimes goes on the blink), and no matter how many times you've seen Psycho or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, you can be sure that everything will be perfectly above board here as Vincent’s brother Bruce is the local sheriff.

Motel Hell stands alone as one of the strangest slasher entries of all time, a cannibal farmer named Vincent (Rory Calhoun) and his portly sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) run the welcoming Motel Hello just off a country road in Bumblefuck, USA, the neon sign "O" flickers on and off, too cute. The duo sell a branded variety of smoked sausage and dried meat to the tourist under the name of Farmer Vincent's Fritters. Anyone who's seen the film certainly knows that "It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent's fritters!", indeed. What kind of critters you may be wondering, well the two-legged human variety, of course.  

That premise alone would be just odd enough to catch your interest, right? Sure, but the producers of Motel Hell take it to even weirder places. Farmer Vincent, played to straight-faced comedic perfection by Western-actor Rory Calhoun, sets up elaborate traps on the roadways to ensnare fresh meat, the best involving luring would-be swingers to the hotel under false pretense and a series of  wooden stand-up cows to block the road, it's great stuff. But wait, it gets weirder! Vincent doesn't put his meat to death right away, nope, he plants them in a secret garden buried up to their necks with burlap sacks over their heads, he then cuts their vocal chords, there they are fed cream corn through a series of funnels until they are deemed ready for slaughter, at which point they are entranced by a psychedelic translucent pinwheel and their necks are broken with nooses tied to the back of tractor! He does this with the help of his ever-hungry and demented sister Ida played by Porky's Nancy Parsons, she's exquisite in the part, it's a shame we didn't to see more of her in these types of nutty roles, she's a blast. 

Apparently not all tourists are destined for the smokehouse, Farmer Vincent has a soft spot for a pretty young gal named Terry (Nina Axelrod), bringing her back to the motel after planting her boyfriends in the garden. When she wakes up Vincent explains that her boyfriend Bo (Everett Creach) was killed following a motorcycle accident (which he caused), with nowhere else to go Terry decides to stay on at the motel. Vincent and Ida set about teaching Terry how to properly smoke a sausage... if you know what I mean. Over time Terry quite improbably agrees to marry the much older Vincent, much to the dismay of his distrusting sister and Vincent's dimwitted brother Bruce (Paul Linke, TV's CHiPS) who has his own amorous feelings for Terry. Nice guy Bruce turns out to be the Sheriff and has no idea his brother is turning tourists into breakfast sausages. 

Soon enough it is revealed to Bruce that his demented brother Vincent is stuffing his
sausage with more than just pork and we get a truly excellent chainsaw vs. chainsaw battle that pre-dates Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) with farmer Vincent wearing the iconic pig's head! Motel Hell is a strange and wonderful slasher with lots of quirk and black humor, Calhoun totally makes the films as the folksy cannibal farmer, the wit is wry and the on goings are bizarre. The film has definitely left it's mark on slasher cinema, from indie horrors  like 2010's Porkchop with it's pig-headed killer to Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror which I think gives this film a nod, Vincent's last words are to lament that he used preservatives in his sausage, the whole scenario brought to mind J.T's secret BBQ sauce recipe from PT. Motel Hell is a classic horror-comedy and it only gets better with subsequent viewings, this is an annual watch for me! Tobe Hooper was originally slated to direct this film, he skipped it to direct The Funhouse (1981) which I certainly love, it's interesting to note that aside from the dueling chainsaws Hooper's  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) shares a similar sense of humor and tonal quality   

Blu-ray: Arrow Video present Motel Hell in it's original widescreen (1.85:1) aspect ratio and it greatly benefits from the new 1080p transfer! I just watched the 2002  Deranged/Motel DVD from MGM and the upgrade is quite significant with improved colors, contrast and way more detail in the image, also added depth and clarity. The English LPCM Audio is nice if unremarkable, dialogue, score and effects come through crisp and clean with no distortion, it has a bit more depth and oomph to it. Keep in mind that the disc is region 'B' locked, and does include an English SDH subtitle option. 

Motel Hell is long overdue for a special edition having languished for years with only a bare bones DVD edition bereft of features. Arrow Video have done the film a proper service with a director's commentary track and four brand-new interviews courtesy of High Rising Productionss! 

The Audio commentary with director Kevin Connor is moderated by Calum Waddell and it's a good listen as Connor talks about his TV career and not wanting to make a gory slasher with Motel Hell, focusing more on the dark comedy of the material. He goes into production notes, scene specific musings and recollections of working with Rory Calhoun, Nancy Parsons and Paul Linke. 

Reversible Artwork 
Co-star Paul Linke gets a video interview with Another Head on the Chopping Block (14:50) as does former Playboy Playmate, Rosanne Katon with From Glamour to Gore (11:26). Porky's alum Nancy Parsons gets her own retrospective in Ida, Be Thy Name (18:07) with interviews from Scream Queens Elissa Dowling and Chantelle Albers, genre commentator Staci Layne Wilson and critic Shelagh Rowan-Legg. The last featurette is Back to the Backwoods (10:09) an appreciation of the bizarre slasher with the director of The Hills Run Red Dave Parker who talks a bit about the film's prescient social commentary and influence on slasher cinema  Also included is the Trailer (2:36) 

Special Features:
- Audio commentary with director Kevin Connor moderated by Calum Waddell
- Another Head on the Chopping Block: Interview with star Paul Linke (14:50)
- From Glamour to Gore: Interview with co-star, and former Playboy Playmate, Rosanne Katon (11:26)
- Ida, Be Thy Name: A look back at Motel Hell’s frightful female protagonist Ida Smith – and the secrets of creating a convincing slasher siren, with Scream Queens Elissa Dowling and Chantelle Albers, genre commentator Staci Layne Wilson and critic Shelagh Rowan-Legg (18:07)
- Back to the Backwoods: Director Dave Parker (The Hills Run Red) speaks about the importance of Motel Hell (10:09)
- Original Trailer (2:36)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jeff Zornow
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kim Newman, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

Verdict: A strange and quirky early slasher entry, the dark humor was ahead of it's time by a few years, an essential must-own for slasher fan. Arrow Video's edition looks fantastic and is loaded with great features, sure to be the definitive edition for quite some time, slasher fans should rejoice. 4 Outta 5 


Blu-ray Review: DARK SKIES (2013)

DARK SKIES (2013) 

2-Disc DVD + Blu-ray + Ultraviolet 

Label: Starz/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Release Date: May 28th 2013 
Region Code: 1/A NTSC
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 97 Minutes 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.40:1) 
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio with Optional English Subtitles
Cast: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, J.K. Simmons 
Director: Scott Stewart

The Barret family is your typical suburban family, a caring father Daniel (Josh Hamilton), attentive Mom Lacy (Kerri Russell), teenage son Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and his adolescent sibling Sammy (Kadan Rockett). Daniel is unemployed and his wife is a struggling real estate agent, things at home are tense and worsening as overdue  mortgage notices pour in. Teenager Jesse's hormones are emerging as he dabbles with weed, porn and sexuality, he's a pretty typical teen struggling with issues of young love and self identity. The youngest son Sammy begins having strange late night encounters with his imaginary friend the Sandman who tells him to do things, he walks in his sleep, too. 

Things start to get a bit strange when mom wakes up from her slumber one night and ventures downstairs after hearing noises, she finds the fridge wide open with it's contents strewn across the floor, a trail of food leads out the backdoor. Daniel chalks it up to a stray animal entering the house through an open door but Lacy is not so convinced, the experience leaves her a bit frazzled and paranoid with worry for her family's safety  The following night she again wakes up with the feeling that something is off,  this time discovering canned food items stacked in a weird geometric pattern which projects a peculiar light pattern onto the ceiling. The suburban setting, weird encounters and stacked items, hmm, this sort of sounds familiar, definitely starting to detect the Spielbergian influence of Poltergeist and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and I'm rather enjoying it.

The strange events continue to grow in frequency and severity, the authorities are called in but attribute the occurrences to pranks that are being perpetrated by the family's children, perhaps spurred on by the growing uneasiness in the household. Thing worsen as the home security system repeatedly malfunction, Sammy sleepwalking continues and various family members experience episodes of missing time they cannot account for and fits of catatonia, nosebleeds, and epileptic seizures. One night Lacey walks into Sammy's room after hearing him speaking to someone, opening the door she is unnerved by a weird shadowy figure, Sammy's Sandman, hovering over his bed she understandably freaks out, a parent can only take so much strain, it's an effective little startle when both the figure and Sammy disappear from the room.   

At their wit's end the father sets-up video surveillance throughout the home in an attempt to sleuth just what is happening to his family before they all completely unravel. At this point I feared the worst sort of turn, anticipating a detour straight into found footage purgatory but thankfully it doesn't quite go there, just dipping it's toe in t test the waters.  

The film excels at creating tension steadily from the first few scene, it's creepy stuff and the filmmaker does a decent job blurring the lines between fiction and reality, there's a lot of psychological weirdness going punctuated by surreal nightmare visions. The performances are quite strong, particularly mom and dad who do a great job of falling apart onscreen, unable to cope with the fantastical and unexplainable events happening to their family they unravel. There's a nice cameo from J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man) as a alien visitation specialist, it's underplayed and effective, you can feel his character's weariness and resignation, a picture of things to come for the family. 

There are moments when the film starts to drag, the character actions are questionable and the amped-up and weird ending doesn't quite live up to the promise of the film's set-up, but it's not awful either, there's nothing egregious here. Dark Skies is an effective suburban alien abduction nightmare, nicely executed with some decent atmosphere and surreal moments of unreality, a recommend for fans of Super 8, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist and Insidious.

Blu-ray: Somehow I missed this one in theaters, the shitty ad campaign which made the film out to be Paranormal Activity with aliens didn't help, so it was a treat to catch up to it on Blu-ray from Anchor Bay. The 1080p widescreen (2.40:1) image looks quite nice on Blu-ray, it's a new film and the image is finely detailed and crisp in high definition. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio supports the film well with some effective use of the surrounds and the nerve-tingling score is creepy, very nice sound design, the film gets a nice AV presentation from Anchor Bay.

Special features on the set include an audio commentary with Writer/Director Scott Stewart, Producer Jason Blum, Executive Producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones and Editor Peter Gvozdas plus a selection of Alternate and Deleted Scenes (14:22), none of which are particular notable aside from an inferior alternate ending we can be thankful they didn't go with. The 2-disc set includes a Blu-ray and standard def DVD with the same features plus an Ultraviolet digital copy to stream or download on your PC or mobile device. 

Special Features: 
- Alternate and Deleted Scenes (14:22) 
- Commentary With Writer/Director Scott Stewart, Producer Jason Blum, Executive Producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones and Editor Peter Gvozdas

Verdict: I think your level of enjoyment here will be largely based on your expectations, just know going in that there's not a lot of actual scares here, it's genuinely creepy and atmospheric but there's no gore; for a PG-13 thriller Dark Skies is an effective sci-fi chiller, a bit shy of essential viewing but definitely worth a watch. 3.5 Outta 5 

Monday, May 20, 2013

DVD Review: OFFENDER (2012)


Label: Revolver Group
Region Code: 1 NTSC

Duration: 98 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 16:9 Widescreem
Director: Ron Scalpello
Cast: Joe Cole, Kimberly Nixon, Sghaun Dooley, Tyson Oba, G. FrSH  

I do love a good British crime thriller and this was a fun watch, a tense, taught and hard boiled actioner that takes place inside the prison walls of an urban detention center. Joe Cole gives a quietly powerful performance as Tommy Nix, dripping with barely subdued rage punctuated by extreme moments of physical and bloody violence, at times I was reminded of Ryan Gosling in DRIVE (2011). 

Cole's Tommy Nix is a 20-something working class Londoner with a loving pregnant girlfriend, she's a probation officer with a child on the way. When it seems to a trio of parolees that she just might drop a dime to the authorities about a jewelry heist turned murderous during the London riots they preemptively put a beating on her, leaving her hospitalized, despondent and childless. Distraught and out of his mind with anger Tommy swears vengeance on the trio of street thugs played by English Frank, rapper G. FrSH and Tyson Oba. 

The trick is that the trio have been sent away to prison on another charge and Tommy see's no other choice, he must find a way inside the hornet's nest and reap his brutal brand of justice. To that end he uncharacteristically beats the snot outta a cop on the street and is thrown in prison alongside the roughies. It's a gritty, downer of a film, graphic and brutal, it certainly does not paint a kind picture of the criminal detention system with it's depiction of rampant corruption, this corruption is pointedly epitomized by Nash, a sleazy guard, played creepily well by Shaun Dooley (EDEN LAKE) who is about as corrupt as you can get, I was a bit surprised he wasn't buggering the inmates as well. 

The film features a great young cast, Cole particularly deserves notice as a man on fire possessed by revenge at all costs, it's great stuff. It's a stylish film with a great urban score, don't be fooled by the truly awful DVD art, this is a decent prison thriller from the UK, and a great debut film from Ron Scalpello. If you enjoy violent British crime thrillers OFFENDER should be on your Netflix que, where it's currently streaming. 3.5 Outta 5 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Blu-ray Review: NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984)

2-Disc Blu-ray+DVD Combo

Label: Scream Factory / Shout Factory 
Release Date: June 11th 2013
Region Code: A/1
Rating: R
Duration: 92 Minutes
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Cast: Sho Kosugi, Lucinda Dickey, Jordan Bennett

My goodness, what have Scream Factory brought us today? This time out it's not a John Carpenter or Stuart Gordon horror classic, nope, it's an 80's cheese-fest from Cannon Films! Even by Canon standards this is a weird entry. The third film in the Cannon's Ninja series mashes-up the martial arts action of a ninja film with the  supernatural weirdness of Poltergeist and the neon-infused nuttiness of the 80's -  sounds awesome, right?

Set just down the road a bit from me in sunny Phoenix, Arizona the film starts off with a ninja assassin slicing and dicing  group of men on a municipal golf course, these opening scenes are bursting at the seams with goofy 80's action like you just wouldn't believe! We get about every ninja trick in the book and a few new ones, too, the sly assassin is taking out motorcycle cops, police cruisers and even a helicopter with rope tricks, throwing stars and sword play as they give chase through the golf course, it's such a weird setting but the film let's you know right from the start you're about to watch a weird one, sure 'nuff. The action comes fast and hard and is hilarious and awesome, the body count is ridiculously high and the preposterous shenanigans are a fun watch, were just a few minutes in and I am completely on board for Ninja 3 and whatever weirdness will follow, and trust me, it gets even weirder!

Despite his masterful martial arts skills our evil ninja is mortally wounded when he stumbles across an 80's coiffed telephone repairman named Christie (Lucinda Dickey) who also moonlights as an aerobics instructor, it's the 80's, so why not. His dying act is to perform some kind of mind transference on the unsuspecting 80's hottie, possessing her with his evil ninja spirit.

Now possessed Lucinda sets about killing the cops responsible for the ninja's death, shes gained all of the assassin's skills and his insatiable thirst for revenge. Christie throws a wrench into the works when she falls for one of the officers involved, the super-cheesy Officer Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett), as you can imagine it's hard to nurture a new love when the evil ninja inside of you wants him dead.

There's some great possession scenes early on, they arrive like an early 80's music video with neon-colored lighting effects, wind and fog machines in full force, an eerie glowing samurai sword and laser-light show that would make Pink Floyd jealous, great stuff. It's hilarious when Christie attempts to thwart the possession by dancing! Of course, any film with a possession scene must by cinematic law have an exorcism, and this one is a whopper, performed by none other than James Hong from Big Trouble in Little China!

Not having watched this aerobicized ninja ass-kicker before I was at least aware of the infamous V8 seduction scene and it does not disappoint in anyway. In an attempt to seduce Billy, Christie pours a can of V8 down her neck and chest, slurp it up lover, slurp it up! Perhaps he weirdest  product placement you've ever seen and definitely the act of a woman possessed by an evil Japanese Ninja, those Asians are a kinky bunch!

The film looks quite nice in 1080p HD from Scream Factory, it's sourced from a very nice print, there's some minor depth to the image and even some fine detail in the close-ups.The lone audio option is an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that does the job quite well, there are no subtitles options. 

Special features are limited to a photo gallery and an audio commentary with director Sam Firstenberg and stunt coordinator Steve Lambert moderated by Rob G. of FEARnet.com, it's a great listen and the trio seem to love the film and recognize it's inherent oddness. This scream Factory edition also includes a standard def DVD of the film with the same features. Oddly, there are no trailers or chapter stops on the menu, it's a pretty bare-bones edition by Scream Factory standards but it's a nice AV presentation, maybe better than the film deserves.

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with director Sam Firstenberg and stunt coordinator Steve Lambert moderated by Rob G. of FEARnet.com
- Photo Gallery

Verdict: Call up a few friends, pop open a few brews (or V8) and let the bizarre 80's awesomeness unfold, this is a strange one, recommended for lovers of 80's schlock and martial arts action weirdness, hope Scream Factory continue to bring more high-caliber, ultra-entertaining Cannon Films schlock to Blu-ray in the future. 3 Outta 5 

Friday, May 17, 2013


Collector's Edition Blu-ray 
Label: Distribpix
Region Code: Region FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 86 Minutes 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1,  Dolby Digital 2.0 
Director: Radley Metzger
Cast: Jamie Gillis, Constance Money, Jacqueline Beudant, Ras Kean, Gloria Leonard

Erotic auteur Radley Metzger's THE OPENING OF MISTY BEETHOVEN (1975) is widely considered the premier adult film of the late-70's porno chic zeitgeist  following the mainstream success of DEEP THROAT (1972) which had housewives and A-List celebrities flocking to 42nd Street to catch a glimpse of Linda Lovelace's orgasmic birth defect. Metzger was already well known for softcore delights CAMILLE 2000 (1969), SCORE (1974) and THE IMAGE (1975) before filming a foursome of hardcore sex film under the alias Henry Paris, and this fascinating fornication-film was an porno chic adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's classic play Pygmalion, it's a pretty great idea and it's executed quite wonderfully by Metzger and the cast.  

As the films begins a noted sexologist named Dr. Seymour Love (Jamie Gillis, THE LICKERISH QAURTET) is at a XXX theater in Paris, France where he  is propositioned by a super-cute street walker named Misty (Constance Money) who refuses to to anything but straight sex, she doesn't take it in the ass or the mouth, the mere thought of sucking a cock seems to turn her stomach. They're conversation is put on hold as Misty meets up with a regular hand-job appointment at the theater, it's an elderly gentleman dressed in a rather large Napoleon hat and costume, he seems happy enough with her skills and after she spills his geriatric-goo she returns to the conversation with Dr. Love who's intrigued by the spunky, if rather uninspired whore. During the conversation Seymour is also distracted by the orgasmic moans of a friend named Geraldine Rich (Jacqueline Beudeant) who's "both very Geraldine, and very rich", she's pleasuring a man in the wings of the theater and the three strike up a conversation, the  subject of which is the absence of anal or oral in Misty's oeuvre    

Seymour makes a bet with Geraldine that he can turn Misty from an uninspired,  low-rent hooker into the a true sexual dynamo in time for the next party to be thrown by socialite and magazine publisher Lawrence Layman (Ras Kean) where she will be crowned the new Goldenrod Girl. Misty agrees to the terms and the trio are off the New York City where Seymour trains Misty in the ways of lovemaking and how to suck a proper cock. We're treated to a fun series of titillating training montages as Misty learns to take it in the mouth, up the ass to hw make three men cum simultaneously - the latter is designed to give her self confidence. Throughout the film Misty conquers one lover after another, working her way up the social sex ladder until the film culminates at the Layman party in an unforgettable sex scene involving a threesome and pegging!

The film has a great cast, firstly Jamie Gillis is fantastic as the smug sexologist Seymour Love which plays perfectly against Constance Money''s portrayal of the titular Misty, she plays it super sweet and a bit naive and it's a total turn-on from start to finish. The dialogue is comedic and witty, its fun stuff, not what you would expect from a typical hardcore sex film but then again Metzger was never a typical filmmaker and the hardcore sex is punctuated by his typical air of elegance and style. 

There's lots of great sex scenes, we get some carpet munching, threesomes, pegging, slow cocksucking, handjobs  and the seduction of a gay art dealer - there's nothing too outrageous but I guess pegging in '75 must have been a bit of an eyebrow raiser to the suburban set maybe, having just rewatched Metzger's SCORE which features an extended gay-sex scene I didn't find it too startling. There's a lot of nice comedic touches throughout the film, fun music cues, witty banter and great fun set pieces, there's even an airline which offers blow jobs on their flights. 

The erotic training montages of Misty's sex lessons are fantastic, her work with a rainbow colored dildo is awfully exciting, the sex on screen is scintillating. Honestly, it's pretty rare that a hardcore film actually stirs the still waters for me but this film had me squirming in my seat - simply put the sex is hot!  Metzger's eye for erotica so evident in his softcore films is fully intact. His films are always a visual delight and this is no exception, great location shoots in Europe and New York City, great set pieces including a stylish mod room with a cut-out wall which features prominently in the film and it's advertising. It certainly doesn't hurt that the film was shot by Academy award winning cinematographer Paul Glickman who shot the film under the name Richard Rochester, you may recall his work on many Larry Cohen films including GOD TOLD ME (1976) and THE STUFF (1985) and this is some of his best work right here, Metzger always surrounded himself with a great crew whom extracted he best stuff from small budgets.

Blu-ray: Distribpix present the film on a 50G dual-layer Blu-ray in 1080p widescreen (1.85:1) with a brand-new HD transfer that's uncut and restored and it looks fantastic. The film was shot on super 16mm and Distribix went back to the original elements for this stunning transfer, it looks great with some nice detail and color saturation. Some scenes are a bit softer than others but overall this is a very pleasing image. 

Audio options include an English language Dolby Digital Mono and a newly created DTS-HD 5.1 surround mix with optional subtitles which are available in English, French, Italian, Spanish, German and Portuguese. Like the image the audio was remastered from the original sound elements and it sounds great, the outstanding library music score sounds fantastic, no one utilized a canned score like Metzger could, there's some real gems to found here. 

Onto the extras let's begin by saying that there are both "hot" and "cool" versions of the film on the Blu-ray meaning you can watch the full strength XXX version or the more subdued softcore version with extended dialogue and alternate takes, it's pretty interesting stuff and I recommend a viewing of the softcore version at some point. 

There are two audio commentaries, the first with Radley Metzger moderated by adult film aficionado Benson Hurt which plays over the XXX version. Like most the Metzger commentaries it's an engaging listen from start to finish. There's a lot of ground covered from the cast and crew on the film, to the production, the score and Metzger's other Henry Paris films.  

A second commentary with adult actress Gloria Leonard can be listed to during the softcore version, she talks a lot about what's happening onscreen and reminiscing about working with Constance Money and Jamie Gillis as well as what it was like to work with Metzger. It's a fun track, not as fact filled as Metzger's but quite entertaining on it' s own merits. 

If the commentaries are just not jam-packed with trivia enough for you, don't worry, there's also a 'Film Facts' subtitle trivia track that recycles a lot of the information you will find on the featurettes, interviews and booklet but it's an informative track just the same. 

More extras include Outtakes and Deleted Scenes (24:16)  from the Audubon Film Archives which are presented without sound, it's an interesting watch and most of it's quite familiar except for some sweet Misty bondage footage, which those scenes by themselves are worth a watch. 

There's a very nice documentary on the disc, too. Behind the Scenes of Misty (48:21) is a narrated documentary featuring interviews with actors Gloria Leonard, Casey Donovan and Ras Kean plus cinematographer Paul Glickman and George Craig who sourced the library music used in the film plus other Metzger projects. It gives a well-rounded perspective of Metzger's career leading up to Misty Beethoven and it covers a lot of the production of the film, great stuff. 

The Back to Cinetta Studios 2012 (3:08) featurette is a nifty then and now comparison of the location used to shoot the wrap party scene, it's surprising how little has changed in 37 years, I've always a fan then and now video tours.

If you have an interest in film restoration you are going to love The Restoration of Misty (25:58)  featuring Ryan Emerson and Joe Rubins of Process Blue who scanned and restored the film for this release. We get a tour of the facility and a nice look at the Goldeneye Film Scanner and the processes involved, the tools used and a very cool demonstration of noise reduction, the good and the bad of what it can do to a film. 

Up next are two video tribute features narrated by adult film historian Benson Hurst. The first Desperately Seeking Susan; Constance Found (7:41) felt a bit like deja vu as he narrates a lot of what he wrote about her in the 60 pg. booklet which accompanies the release. It's a nice overview of Money's somewhat secretive life beginning with her middle class upbringing in Kenmore, WA and the pain caused by the reaction she received following her career in porno. The second tribute Remembering Jamie Gillis (9:00) is a nice eulogy for the actor, a nice remembrance of a truly one-of-a-kind adult film actor. 

Jamie Gillis - The Final Interview (18:53) features the actor shortly before his death speaking about his life as a nice Jewish boy turned adult film star beginning with low rent basement porno shoots before making a name for himself. When the topic turns to Paul Thomas Anderson's film BOOGIE NIGHTS (1987) he get's a bit irritated, he obviously didn't care for. 

The last of the exhaustive Blu-ray special features are a collection of Henry Paris Trailers (25:52), a selection of Radio Spots (3:06)Vintage Slideshow (3:05) and a neat Ephemera Galley (6:41)

Included inside the keepcase is a 5x7 replica of the 1977 Erotic Award Certificate presented to the filmmaker by the AFAA for best screenplay. The slipcase and insert feature newly commissioned artwork by artists Anthony Palumbo, this is a very attractive package. Last but not least is the aforementioned 60 page collector's booklet with writings on the film from Benson Hurst, Ian Culmell and Lawrence Cohen. It contains an overview of the film, it's principle cast, locations and filming, artwork, score and details about the infamous pegging scene plus notes about the transfer. It should be noted the booklet is designed for insertion in a DVD keepcase, not a Blu-ray, as such it does not fit inside the keepcase. whew, that was a lot of features, fantastic stuff. 

Special Features: 

- Audio Commentary with director Radley Metzger and adult film historian Benson Hurst on the 'Hot' Version
- Audio Commentary with co-star Gloria Leonard on the 'Cool' Version
- Behind the Scenes of Misty (48:21) 
- Remembering Jamie Gillis (9:00)
- The Outtakes and Deleted Scenes (24:16) 
- The Restoration of Misty (25:58) 
- Desperately Seeking Susan; Constance Found (7:41) 
- Jamie Gillis : The Final Interview (18:53)
- ‘Fim Facts’ Subtitle Track
- All 5 Henry Paris Trailers in HD 
- Back to Cinetta Studios 2012 (3:08) 
- Vintage Slideshow (3:05) 
- Ephemera Galley (6:41) 

Verdict: Radley Metzger's erotic oeuvre has enjoyed a recent amount of prestige releases from Synapse, Cult Epics and Arrow Video but nothing comes close to the sweet love that this film has received, a phenomenal tribute to porno chic's supreme document. Might I also add that no film has made me want a blow-job more than after watching this, a truly seductive film and an outstanding presentation from Distribpix! 4 Outta 5 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

DVD Review: COLD PREY II (2008)

COLD PREY II (2008) 

Label: Shout Factory
Region Code: 1 NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 94 Minutes
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: Danish Dolby Digital 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Mats Stenberg
Cast:  Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Johanna Morck, Kim Wifladt, Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik, Fridtjov Sahein

If you love snowbound horror and slashers then you best prepare yourself for an extended horror-gasm because the sequel to the Danish slasher entry COLD PREY (2006) is about to make you pop your top! Not sure what took so long for this sequel to make it's way to a proper region 1 DVD release but trust me it's worth the wait, I loved the original film and this one maintains the same level of quality.  It's atmospheric, tense, and features not just a main character you actually feel something for but a cast of side characters, too! On a purely visual level we get a a gorgeous snow-set mountaintop setting plus a very cool pick-ax armed slasher hacking away at 20-somethings, what's not to love?

This sequel much like Halloween 2 (1981) takes up immediately following the events of the first film, our heroine Jannicke (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), is picked-up by the police who find her dazed and confused alongside the road, the officer nearly runs her down. In shock and uncommunicative she is transported to a hospital where she tells the startling tale of what happened to her and her friends on the mountaintop, which I won't spoil for you. The authorities send a detail up to the mountain and specifically to the crevice in the ice where the corpses were thrown, and indeed her story checks out, there's a lot of bodies. 

The bodies are brought back to the hospital by the authorities for identification and autopsy purposes. When Jannicke is brought to the morgue to identify her friends bodies she sees that the killer's body is among them and goes into a justified shit fit and pounds the bejeezus outta the corpse in the morgue, and wouldn't you just know it the hulking freak springs back to life (of course!) to continue his slasher spree and maybe even knock off Jannicke who only just barely escaped him in the first installment.

There's a lot of similarities to Halloween 2, this is a pretty obvious homage to that film without question. It's a direct sequel, we have the hospital setting, and the drugged-out survivor girl. We don't quite get a Loomis character but collectively he's represented. Comparing it to H2 I wouldn't say it's a clone, think of it in terms of the DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) vs. DAWN OF THE DEAD (2008), similar but totally different. This frosty slasher-nirvana, and it has a great retro-feel, too. Much like the first installment there's plenty of slow lingering shots and eerie atmosphere bolstered by a creepy score and some nice sound design, this is a great looking slasher.

Something we don't get enough of these days that this film has in excess are some decent characters that you can get a feel for, the deaths actually mean something because the characters get at least some minor development, they're quite likable. The officers, the hospital staff and a small child whom befriends our heroine all enter into the picture and when the blood starts flowing you feel it, you dread it even, there's a real sense of menace and it's appreciated.

Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as our returning heroine is pretty fantastic, she starts of struggling with physical weakness and the effects of being strung out on tranquilizers but when the shit hits the fan she's quite the ass-kicker, and with this film we get not just one final girl, but two!

In regard to our baddie we do get some expanded back story from a cop who investigated a missing person report years ago, some newspaper clippings and whatnot. It's not a perfect info dump but it's not offensively expository either. Apparently the third entry is prequel, and given what we know and what we discover with this film, and the one before it, I am pretty excited to check it out.

At the end of the day this a slasher film so after all the character development and how gorgeous the movie is you might still wanna know how are the kills are, right? No worries grue-seekers, they're pretty sweet. While there's nothing new under the sun it's superbly executed without resorting to gratuitous excess, there's some restraint. We have a slashed throat, a brutal shower room brain bashing (minus a few point for a lack of nudity), a vertebrae shattering neck snap, and a great finale that takes us back to the remote mountaintop hotel where it all started. I would say that this one, while starting off somewhat slow for the first forty minutes, nicely ramps up he action over the first film and is its equal.  

DVD: Shout Factory present Cold Prey 2 in 16x9 widescreen (2.35:1) and it's a very nice standard definition transfer. The whites are crisp without being overblown and the blacks are adequate  there's some crushing evident in a few scenes. It's not an overly sharp image either, would love to see this get a 1080p Blu-ray with amped-up fine detail, it would be a stunner. The Danish 5.1 audio is very nice offering some good use of the surrounds. Dialogue, score and effects are well balanced and clear. Overall a very nice presentation that would greatly benefit from a new hi-def transfer.

The disc is pretty bare bones by Shout Factory standards coming in with only a trailer for the film and a few deleted scenes, which seemed to be just slightly different takes from scenes in the film, if that.

Special Features:
- Trailer (2:02)
- Deleted Scene (7:31)

Verdict: Cold Prey and Cold Prey 2 are fun, essential retro-styled slashers, these films are recommended to any slasher fan looking for something new to chew on. Now I am left to wonder how long do we have to wait for the second sequel which was released in 2010 in Norway to make it's way to North America? A perfect scenario would have Shout Factory acquiring the rights to all three films and releasing a triple feature Blu-ray of this Norwegian slasher franchise, can we make that happen? 3.5 Outta 5