Saturday, August 31, 2013

Blu-ray Review: THE TELEPHONE BOOK (1971)


Label: Vinegar Syndrome
Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 87 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: Dolby Digital English
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:10
Director: Nelson Lyon
Cast: Sarah Kennedy, Barry Morse, Norman Rose, William Hickey 

Here's a little know underground cult film directed by former Saturday Night Live writer Lyon Nelson and it's a quirky sex-laden arthouse film that is quite unlike anything I have seen before, at first glance I had little to no interest in what the description offered me but just a few minutes in and I was hooked. Sarah Kennedy plays Alice, a super-cute sexed-up hippie vixen in NYC, she's blonde, gorgeous and has a spritely charm about her, impossible not to fall in love with right away. 

One fine day she's laying about her apartment which is adorned with awesome x-rated wallpaper, she's seemingly bored and calling into a dial-a-prayer hot line until she receives a dirty phone call from "the world's greatest obscene phone caller" who so titillates the young cutey with his velvety smooth and vulgar charm that she falls immediately in love, juiced-up and horny she demands to meet the amorous voice on the phone, reluctantly he reveals his name to be John Smith (Norman Rose) and states he can be found in the phone book, which is true... alongside about 200 other John smith's I am quite sure. 

Sweet young Alice sets out to find her particular John Smith dialing every one of 'em in the telephone book setting off a series of fun and     intriguing sexually-tinged encounters with a series of weirdos and deviants.  The first encounter is with a stag film actor named Har Poon (Barry Morse) who coerces her into appearing in an on camera orgy with 18 other women, loved seeing Warhol's Ultra Violet as a whip-snapping beauty in this scene, yowza! Next Alice encounters a psychiatrist cum flasher on the L train who at first is a bit put-off when she in turn flashes him, eventually they end up at a diner where Alice spins the tale of her most sexually satisfying encounter as per her request, meeting a man with an eternal hard-on. In a flashback sequence we meet this super-erection and it's none other than William Hickey - Uncle Lewis from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) - very strange indeed! The head shrink listens intently, and as the story becomes hotter he sorta of metaphorically beats-off while furiously dispensing quarters from one of those change machines worn on your belt - it's fun stuff. 

Her further adventures in search of the world's greatest obscene phone caller bring her to the home of a lesbian where the duo explore the carpet-muncher's vibrator collection intimately. Alice is quite a sexual dynamo, definitely a free bohemian spirit and actress Sarah Kennedy completely owns this film from start to finish! She's so damn cute and perky, naive but sexually assured, and most frequently naked or in various states of undress, this is a pretty dirty little film but it has such a quirky sense of humor, it's a great balance and the result is that it's erotic but also a bit disarming. 

Spliced into the film are several weird vignettes documenting various obscene phone callers who confess their particular proclivity, it's very funny stuff, I especially loved the woman with a love of inserting bananas in her snatch while speaking with men on the phone about their wangs, it's gives the film a weird structure, it's quite arthouse in it's construction. this is definitely a quirky arthouse sex film with a fantastic sense of humor. 

Ultimately when she Alice does track down the reluctant object of her lustful affection, the world's greatest obscene phone caller, who in a nicely odd touch appears obscured behind a partial pig mask, I found it the least intriguing part of the film, but then were treated to a crazy explosion of acid-tinged animation and I was won over again, this was a great watch.

Blu-ray: Vinegar Syndrome have yet again dug deep and unearthed an classic underground film and given it a nice spit polish, presented in it's original widescreen (1.85:1) aspect ratio this stark, black and white feature looks great in 1080p with rich cinematography, it's wonderfully grainy with some very nice contrast, it does look a bit soft at times from scene to scene but nothing too hideous. The transfer was culled from the original 35mm elements, there are instances of minor print damage by way of speckles and dirt, and a few small scratches but at the end of the day this looks quite superb, once again Vinegar Syndrome impress with a great transfer of a previously rare film, love what these guys are doing for obscure and underground cinema. 

The only audio option is an English language Dolby Digital mono presentation, there's not a lot of spunk to it but it's mostly clean and free of distortion, it tends to sound a stifled and canned with not a lot of dynamic range but it's pretty decent, there are some minor instances of snap, crackle and hiss from time to time. Nate Sassover's score is light and perfectly suites the quirky, lighthearted nature of the production, there are no subtitles options. 

Special features include a fact-filled and anecdotal commentary with Producer Merv Bloch, it's a great listen. There are also 2 trailers, radio spots and a still image gallery. This 2-disc set includes a standard-def DVD of the film with the very same features, it's a nice addition but definitely watch it in 1080p - it's a fantastic looking black and white features. 

Special Features:

- Commentary by Producer Merv Bloch
- Theatrical Trailer (:38)

- Re-Issue Trailer (2:06)
- Radio Spots (3:32)
- Still Gallery

Verdict: I loved this oddball sexpoitation film, it's cute and smutty and quite a bit of fun. Star Sarah Kennedy is a super-cutey with a squeaky little voice, she completely won me over. The Telephone Book (1971) a weird little underground New York cinema entry, if you're looking for something strange, sexy and wonderful this definitely fits the bill, a very original slice of kinky arthouse cinema. 3 Outta 5 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Blu-ray Review: DRESSED TO KILL (1980)

Label: Arrow Video
Region Code:
Rating: Cert. 18
Duration: 105 Minutes 
Audio: English English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English LPCM 2.0 with Optional SDH Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Cast: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen
Director: Brian De Palma

Brian De Palma's psycho-sexual thriller Dressed To Kill (1980) starts off with a wonderfully lurid shower scene slash dream sequence wherein Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) fantasizes about being raped in the shower, anythings better that the hum drum drilling she gets from her husband I guess, even rape. She vents her sexual frustration to her psychiatrist Dr. Elliot (Michael Caine). Afterward she proceeds to the museum where she is seduced by stranger, after a fun game of cat and mouse and a seductive Isotoner Glove scene she winds up in the back of a cab where the handsome stranger nibbles on her kitty before they end up back at his apartment where she discovers a nasty post-coital surprise, her new lover is infected with an STD... shit. Wracked with regret she flees the apartment only to be slashed to pieces by a blonde woman in the elevator with a razor blade, she dies bleeding on the floor, it's a phenomenal sequence and the terror is palpable, you can almost taste the blood on your lips. A pricey call girl named Liz (Nancy Allen, Blow Out) discovers her blood-spattered corpse and nearly falls prey to the killer herself whom she glimpses in a mirror.

In the aftermath the woman's despondent son Peter (Keith Gordon, Christine) teams-up with the only witness to his mother's murder, kind heated hooker Liz,  to sleuth the identity of the killer which he believes to be another one of Dr. Elliot's patient. Their investigation leading up to a crazed, sexually frustrated finale that will either leave you in a state of shock or have you in stitches from laughter, possibly a little bit of both. 

De Palma is clearly riffing on Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) here and to great effect in my opinion, Angie Dickinson's premature death in the elevator smacks of Janet Leigh premature departure, it's just amped-up to the nth degree with sex and violence and I loved it. In fine slasher tradition she has illicit sex and must die, but you feel a great amount of empathy for the woman, she's not a slut, just an unhappy woman with desires that are not being met at home, and when she steps outside the bounds of her passionless marriage, just this once,  she's not only exposed to an STD but is shredded with a razor you definitely feel for her, quite a bit. 

The suspect is a patient of Elliot's named Bobbi, a transgender person who taunts the psychiatrist for stopping their sessions before the doc would approve a gender reassignment surgery. On the case is Det. Marino, De Palma regular Dennis Franz, who only half-heatedly suspects that Liz might be the culprit, despite the fact that Liz is attacked by "Bobbi" in the subway, only surviving when Peter comes out of nowhere to save the day with a can of mace to the face, apparently he followed the attacker from Dr. Elliots office. 

The team-up with Liza and Peter works well, Peter using his science skills to create a series of listening devices and cameras to identify his mother's killer is fun, Liz using her God-given sexuality to seduce information from the doc, her seduction scene is simply pant-swelling as she's decked out in black lingerie and garter belts, mmm, I love it when she tells the doc "because of the size that cock in your pants I don't think you're so married", to which he protests, well that's just a dead giveaway right there. 

The ending is a bit of a shocker, one I that struck me quite dumb when I first saw this on VHS many years ago, what a fun thriller. While the elevator sequence is straight-up slasher territory this is not a slasher, but it's definitely a psycho-sexual thriller with some slasher-esque tendencies, a bit like an Dario Argento Giallo film, I've always thought that De Palma must be a fan of Dario Argento, think a lot of similarity there, at least in their meticulous nature and superb cinematography, and the misogynists accusations thrown at both.  Dressed To Kill  is fun stuff but there's only one death n the entire film, just don't come into this expecting a blood bath, it's a bit campy a I find a lot of De Palma's films are and it's a terrific riff on some familiar Hitchcock themes. 

Blu-ray: Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill (1980) comes to region-b locked Blu-ray from Arrow Video in it's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with an MPEG-4 AVC encode with strong color-reproduction, a nice layer of natural fine film grain and some decent clarity, it's definitely on par with the 2011 region-a MGM disc, perhaps a bit brighter, too. The cinematography features a lot of soft-focus, so there's a fuzzy dreamy quality to the film, which perhaps does not translate into the most sharply pristine use of the 108op format but it looks very nice, way better than my standard-def DVD. 

Audio options include an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 LPCM with optional English SDH subtitles. Purists will appreciate the inclusion of the mono track which is clear and natural with no problems whatsoever but in my opinion it's the 5.1 which opens up things with effects and score spilling into the surrounds, felt like I was in that steamy shower with Angie Dickinson at one point, not raping her though, of course. Pino Donaggio's score benefits the most from the 5,1, it's a great score and just might be his best for De Palma but I tend to think that every time I watched Body Double (1984) and Blow Out (1981)

Onto the extensive assortment special features we get every extra from the 2011 MGM Blu-ray beginning with the interview Symphony of Fear (17:36) with producer George Litto who, speaks about working with De Palma, production locations, working with Samuel Arkoff and American International Pictures, he clearly enjoys reminiscing about his time working on the De Palma.

There's the fantastic The Making of a Thriller (43:53) documentary featuring interviews with Brian De Palma, George Litto, Dennis Franz, Nancy Allen, Angie Dickinson among others, it's an entertaining doc covering with some great insights from Angie Dickinson about he shower scene, the cab sex scene and working with Michael Caine who was apparently quite a riot on set. Also interesting is hearing DePalma and others defend against the Hitchcock Psycho (1960) comparisons, which in this film are quite unavoidable, c'mon man just admit it, you love ripping off Hitchcock and that's okay, it's great stuff, if you're gonna steal  steal from the best! 

Also ported over from the MGM edition is the Unrated, R-Rated ad TV-Rated Comparison (5:14) featurette which I love, this split screen comparison of the various cuts of the film is fascinating to me. Arrow previously included a very similar featurette for there Blu-ray of Mario Bava's Black Sabbath (1963). A lot of it's graphic and steamy shower scenes and the slasheriffic elevator death sequence, the sanitized TV version is pretty funny, this film was up for an x rating at one point, just fascinating stuff. 

Slashing Dressed To Kill (9:49) is another great watch about De Palma's struggle with the MPAA to avoid the dreaded x-rating, the director was quite livid at the idea of having to castrate film, accused of misogyny he vented his frustration to the press at the time. The last of the extras ported over from the MG edition include a Theatrical Trailer (2:10) and a Animated Photo Gallery featuring 20 behind-the-scenes shots. 

Onto the newly produced  Fiction Factory extras we begin with Dressed In White (29:53), an interview with star Angie Dickinson who is quite proud of her role in the, fondly recalling DePalma's meticulously precise style of direction, the taxi sex sequence, the museum shoot, and the infamous shower scene featuring a Playboy Playmate body double, she also defends the film against the Hitchcock rip-off accusations. of course. 

Dressed In Purple (23:04) is an interview with star Nancy Allen who was married to De Palma at the time offers insight into the script writing process and casting the film, working with Michael Caine and Keith Gordon, meeting Dario Argento and her views on the accusations of misogyny, mentioning that in hindsight it's perhaps not the nicest film to women, the interviews with Nancy Allen are always pretty great, particularly in relation to DePalma's films, a man who cast his wife as a whore more than once, reminds me a bit of the Dario Argento / Daria Nicolodi dynamic.

The last of the new extras is Lessons in Filmaking (30:45), an interview with co-star Keith Gordon (John Carpenter's Christine)  who remembers the film as a seminal experience, an important film and an intelligent thriller. Gordon clearly admires De Palma who was quite the inspiration on the future director, also taking an obligatory moment to defend the director against the Hitchcock comparisons. 

What a great set of extras, I think that Arrow's series of De Palma Blu-rays are some of the best titles of the year, this is great stuff on par and beyond their North American counterparts, these are essential releases. Would have loved a new De Palma interview or commentary, perhaps an interview with Michael Caine on one of his better films from a weird period in his career, I am quite sure it's not for lack of Arrow and Fiction Factory trying. If you have not gone region-free yet you need to do so and Arrow's De Palma Blu-rays are a great place to start your collection. 

I was not sent the retail version of the film so I cannot comment on the artwork or booklet but it can only get better, this a fantastic Blu-ray and any De Palma fan needs to own it. 

Special Features:
-High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the feature
-Optional original uncompressed LPCM Mono 2.0 Audio and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
-Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
-Symphony of Fear (17:36)
-Dressed in White (29:53)

-Dressed in Purple (23:04)
-Lessons in Filmmaking (30:45)
-The Making of a Thriller  (43:53)
-Unrated, R-Rated, and TV-Rated Comparison Featurette (5:14)
-Slashing Dressed to Kill 

-Original Theatrical Trailer (2:10)
-Gallery of 20 behind-the-scenes shots
-Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanel Marsh
-Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic and author Maitland McDonagh, illustrated with original archive stills and promotional material

Verdict: Dressed To Kill (1980) is a wonderful psycho-sexual thriller, it's pulpy and has a few slasher tendencies, plus it's loaded with De Palma's trademark style... and a lot of borrowed Hitchcock motifs, and that's just fine by me not a problem at all. This is great stuff with a just the right amount of camp to it, a top-notch thriller and Arrow's region-b locked Blu-ray is the definitive Blu-ray edition, great stuff from top to bottom. 4.5 Outta 5 

Monday, August 19, 2013


Label: ArrowDrome
Rating: 18 Certificate 
Duration: 93 Minutes 
Region Code: Region 2 PAL
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Video: 16:9 Widescreen 
Cast: Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, Daphne Zuniga
Director: Larry Stewart
Tagline: Here’s to being young… staying young… and dying young.

Arrow Video budget-imprint ArrowDrome have brought Larry Stewart's by-the-numbers slasher The Initiation (1984) to PAL-format DVD in the UK. The film is a nostalgic slasher trip that doesn't stray very far from familiar slasher themes with more than a nod to John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and even a bit of Happy Birthday to Me (1981). It stars 80's cutie Daphne Zuniga (The Dorm That Dripped Blood, Spaceballs) as a college-teen suffering from nightmares stemming from a traumatic past and a buried family secret. Throw a sorority prank gone awry, an asylum, some teen sex (of course), a fun mall setting and shocker of a twist ending and you have yourself a real slice of slasher nirvana, it's not original by any means but it is a rather enjoyable 80's whodunit.

I love the nightmare aspect of the story and how it pays off, plus we get some rather sweet kills using garden tools which set-up a rather obvious red-herring early on, gotta love the red-herrings in these 80's slashers. There's a fun cast of 80's familiars,  first we have Daphne Zuniga who is a total cutie as the final girl, she's great in a role that has some duality to it, fun stuff. On top of that you get Clu Gulager of The Return of the Living Dead (1986) as Kelly's father, a bit of a low-life but not horribly so, as the matriarch of the family we have Vera Miles from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) who would rather keep her secretes buried even if it means risking her own daughter's sanity. There's a decent amount of character development before the blood begins to flow, once the pranksters hit the local mall things really amp up after a somewhat slow start-up. There's a good variety to the deaths and a fair amount of the red stuff, too. Outside of the main characters we have the usual array of bitches, goofball doofuses and a virginal cutie, all are meat for the grinder though, no surprises there. 

The film gets a bit surreal as it deals quite a bit with Monica's nightmares and repressed memories, the dream sequences are pretty neat, particularly when she catches her mom boning away and she sets a man on fire, weird stuff and a great opening that starts of a bit askew. The mall setting is fantastic and it expectantly brought to mind Chopping Mall (1986) minus the murderous robots, as I've said, it's not an original film, but it definitely riffs on a few better films and chugs along at a great pace with some decent kills and some nice atmosphere, I was never bored for even a minute,  this is a damn decent slasher.

The standard-def transfer is on par with what we saw from the Region 1 Anchor Bay and Image Entertainment editions, there's a lot of soft focus and Vaseline on the lens cinematography and the 80's film stock is notoriously shit, but it's decent enough. The mono audio can be a bit tinny and the mix was low, had to crank it up a bit on the surround. There's not much in the way of special features unfortunately, just a theatrical trailer and that's it. My screener was just the disc only but apparently the retail version includes a booklet with writing's on the film by High Rising Productions' Calum Waddell. UK fans of slashers should definitely pick this budget-minded edition up, readers in the US need not upgrade. 3 Outta 5 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

DVD Review: LUCID. (2013)

LUCID. (2013) 

Label: Big Biting Pig Productions
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 87 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: PJ Woodside
Cast: Brittney Saylor, Bill Johnson, P.J. Woodside, Michael Coon, Steve Hudgins, Felicia Stewart, Scott Cummings, Megan Jones, Craig Angel, Jim Foreman, Janet Corum

Lucid. (2013) is director P.J. Woodside's third feature film and it's focus is a young woman named Monica (Brittany Saylor) who's nightly slumber is disturbed by repressed memories of a traumatic childhood and terrifying dreams of slaughtering her boyfriend. When awake she seems quite happy with but her subconscious is definitely working overtime thinking about his bloody demise. Fearing she might hurt her boyfriend she attempts to seek help from a noted sleep therapist named Dr. Aaron Night, but is refused. Shortly afterward her life spirals out of control as her dreams and reality start to mesh,  each day is a waking nightmare and her boyfriend's life may be in serious danger, but there's more to the story and there's something quite a bit more sinister than just nightmares at play here. 

P.J. Woodside's previous film The Creepy Doll (2011) was a decent chiller and Lucid. (2013) steps up with better visuals and some very nice performances, particularly from lead actress Brittney Saylor who's portrayal of a woman haunted by nightmares and struggling to come to grips with reality is quite good, I totally bought into it. Woodside herself makes an appearance as a sketchy dream therapist, there's some strong performances here and while some of it comes across as a bit amateurish it doesn't completely unhinge the film. Also making a notable appearance as Monica's father Paw Paw is none other than Bill Johnson who played Leatherface in Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), and while it's not the greatest performance in my opinion it's unsettling and gives the film another layer of atmospheric creepiness.   

The film's subject matter goes into some pretty dark places, I was surprised just how elaborate and labyrinthine the story became as it plugged along, a real spider's web of psychological terror. Afterward it made me think quite a bit about the power of disturbing dreams and nightmares and their adverse affect on the psyche, it's an intriguing subject and it makes for a decent watch. Woodside keeps things chugging along at a decent clip with just a few slow moments, she's seems careful to keep things anchored within budget and not overstep the technical bounds of what they could achieve on film, not a perfect film but a decent watch. 

Special Features: 
- Blooper Reel (5:48)
- Deleted Scenes (1:12)
- Audio Commentary with director/screenwriter/actress P.J. Woodside and cinematographer/actor Steve Hudgins

Verdict: A decent low-budget psychological horror film from P.J. Woodside and the Big Biting Pig Productions crew, can't wait to see what's up next for 'em, this is low-budget movie making with a lot of heart. 2.5
 Outta 5 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Blu-ray Review: STREET TRASH (1987) - Special Meltdown Edition (Synapse Films)

Special Meltdown Edition Blu-ray 
Label: Synapse Films
Region:  All Region ABC
Rating: Unrated
Duration:  102 minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Original Mono with Optional Englisg Subtitles 
Video:  1080p Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director:  James Muro
  James Lorinz, Mike Lackey, Mark Sferrazza, Bill Chepil

Now here's a VHS rental from my youth that just never wears out it's welcome, a true cult classic of 80's horror. The winos and derelicts of Manhattan's Lower East Side start melting into puddles of neon-goo when the owner of Ed's Liquors finds a dusty case of sixty year old  Tenefly Viper Wine in the basement and puts it for sale at just $1 a bottle. What ensues is one of the greatest gross-out black comedies of the 80's as demented winos disintegrate in mere seconds leaving behind a fluorescent puddle of glop. Quickly the strange putrid deaths catch the attention of a stern cop named Bill (Bill Chepil) who investigates the series of melty-murders leading him to a local salvage yard inhabited by a colorful cast of homeless character beginning with a menacing  'Nam vet named Bronson (Vic Noto) who rules over the scrap yard from his mountain of trash complete with scuzzy henchmen and a sex-slave girlfriend. Bronsons's wound a bit tight in the cranium and suffers from post traumatic stress and is prone to 'Nam flashbacks and violent outburst, he's quite a nasty bit of business, and the bums fear him for good reason. 
While the film doesn't paint a very compassionate picture of the homeless community not all the characters are awful pieces of shit, there are two runaway brothers at the scarp yard just trying to survive day to day in a shitty situation. We have the older bearded brother Fred (Mike Lockey) who is a fucking gas to watch, the opening scenes of him thieving a bottle of Teneafly Viper from Ed's Liquor's and the ensuing chase are pretty great, he's the one who introduces the poison hooch to the other bums, quite by accident. The younger Kevin (Mark Sferrazza) brother is a bit sweeter and naive he's sorta dating an Asian girl named Wendy (Jane Arawaka) who works at the scrap yard. The film paints a drab picture of living on the streets and the shit that they have to endure from day to day, if it's not falling victim to the brute Bronson or just scraping by looking for a meal it's something worse... melting into a technicolor pool of goo. 

The main draw of the film is the gore and crude humor, there's no shortage of bad taste on display with rape, necrophilia, murder and some great low-budget gore effects, it's a hot sloppy mess. The effects are low-budget but pretty awesome, sorta like the best Troma film you've ever seen, it's definitely along the lines of Nuke 'Em High only way better and with a splash of early Peter Jackson thrown in! Street Trash (1987) is without a doubt one of the best 80's splatter comedies, seeping with nasty violence, sick humor, rape jokes and more technicolor puke and goo than you might be able to stomach, it's just wonderful. 

The acting is not exactly stellar, which is not to say the character weren't fun, they were a blast. There's a great cast of cracked and degenerate characters, some of my favorites were the older bums, some fun performances from old dudes, who mostly all end up melted into toilets or exploding in a technicolor geyser of gore. A character Burt enters a grocer store and stuffs chicken and Kool-Aid down his pants until he's accosted by an old lady and he creates quite a scene, fun stuff. Some amateur acting doesn't derail the film, throw in enough outrageous gore and weirdness and I can forgive just about anything and this film more than makes up for it's shortcomings with it's over-the-top awesomeness, but your mileage may vary depending on your tolerance for gang-rape and necrophilia jokes, plus there's an awesome severed-cock scene featuring an unfortunate bum caught in a sadistic game of of monkey-in-the-middle with his own junk!

Street Trash (1987) is a fairly attractive film which might be a bit of a shock considering it's a low-budget 80's production, definitely a step-up from the usual Troma trash we were getting at the time. Some of this might be due to director Jim Muro who just a few years later would go onto to a successful career as a steadi-cam operator on Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) among others, you can definitely see his talents at work even on this splatter cheapie. Plus, there's some great art direction and set designs using natural locations, it's a dingy and scummy looking film by design, there's not a clean surface in the entire film, I needed a shower after watching it in 1080p. On top of that, it's a pretty tight little film that manages to chug along at a good clip and keeps you plugged in for the duration, it's a nasty bit of fun from start to finish. 

Blu-ray: Synapse Films have upgraded their previous DVD edition of this 80's splatter classic with a new 1080p Special Meltdown Edition presented with an MPEG-4 AVC encode, it's a fantastic hi-def transfer, you've never seen Street Trash's grotesque meltdowns like this before, it's quite pleasing. A sharp image with nice clarity and a healthy amount of grain and fine detail - the neon colors are eye-popping! Sourced from the original camera negative this transfer is very clean with only minor specs, no complaints here about the image, yet another superb Synapse transfer. 

We have two audio options, the original mono mix and a newly created DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with optional English subtitles. The mono is quite good and will please the purists but the 5.1 really opens it up, dialogue, score and effects are balanced and strong, it's a very crisp audio presentation. 

Looking at the extras let's begin with the carryovers from the standard-def DVD. We have two audio commentaries beginning with writer/producer Roy Frumkes, a name you might recall from his film Document of the Dead, a documentary about the making of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978), it's a great listen and well thought out as Frumkes details his involvement on the project, covering it's genesis  the locations, special effects, cast and the dialogue, even pointing out some of the ad-libbed dialogue he didn't write, it's a great commentary. 

Director Jim Muro's commentary is a bit more technical in regard to composing shots and some of the great effects work, he definitely enjoy watching the film and laughs quite often, it's not quite as anecdotal as Frumkes but it's a good listen.. 

There's an over two hour documentary titled The Meltdown Memories from writer/producer Frumkes and it's pretty damn entertaining with interviews from Frumkes, special effects man Mike Lackey, director James Muro, producer Jim Marucci, art director Denise Labelle, actors Glenn Andreiev, Nicole Porter, Vic Noto who played Bronson and Frankenhooker's James Lorinz who has a small but memorable part in the film, love the end-credits sequence. The piece is narrated by Frumkes and features some vintage interviews from Muro and Porter. At over two hours it's 23 minutes longer than the damn film and covers all the bases, if it's about Street Trash it's covered here to some degree.

We have the original 16mm Street Trash short film that runs just over 15 minutes, it's a cool extra and it's interesting to note the small differences between it and the feature film, the main idea is intact but it's a bit different.  

Along those same lines is the original Street Trash promotional teaser created to assist in raising funds for the feature length film, there's also a theatrical trailer. 

New to this Blu-ray edition are an Jane Arawaka video interview, the actress recalls her time on the film, it's film's cult status and her remembers her co-actors on the project. Interestingly she went on to live quite the rock n' roll lifestyle post-Street Trash having married the bass player for The Rolling Stones! There are also a selection of deleted scenes totaling just over seven minutes, there's nothing to earth shattering but it's pretty cool to have 'em on the set, plus we get a very neat Tenefly Viper Wine sticker inside the Blu-ray case. A few items not ported over from the previous DVD are a pic gallery and a booklet but the new exclusives are quite cool.

 Special Features:

- High-Definition Transfer from the Original Camera Negative
- 5.1 Surround Remix Created Specifically for Home Theater Environments
- Two Audio Commentaries Featuring Producer Roy Frumkes and Director James Muro
- THE MELTDOWN MEMOIRS – Feature Length Documentary on the History and Making of STREET TRASH (2:03:59) 
- The Original STREET TRASH 16mm Short Film That Inspired the Movie (15:05)
- The Original STREET TRASH Promotional Teaser (3:07)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2:10)

- Jane Arakawa Video Interview (9:15) 
- Deleted Scenes (7:12)
- Create Your Own Bottle of “Tenafly Viper” Wine with the Enclosed Label Sticker!

Verdict: Street Trash (1987) is a true cult classic, a nasty 80's splatter-comedy that should be on every horror enthusiasts shelf and Synapse's superb Blu-ray is worth a double-dip with a sweet 1080p upgrade and some great extras. Synapse have yet to disappoint with any of their Blu-rays, this is a great package! 

4 Outta 5  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Blu-ray Review: PUNK VACATION (1987)

2-Disc Blu-ray + DVD Combo

Label: Vinegar Syndrome
Region Code: 0 
Duration: 93 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo
Directors: Stanley Lewis
Cast: Stephen Fiachi, Sandra Bogan, Roxanne Rogers, Rob Garrison

When some L.A. punks roll into a small rural town for a much needed vacation from the urban decay of the city the shit hits the fan when a young punk named Bobby (Rob Garrison) loses forty-cents in a soda vending machine, all the money he has in the world. Now he's pissed and vandalizes the soda machine, that is until the diner owner chases him off with a shotgun. Bobby returns a short time later with the entire gang of what are supposed to be threatening punks but what look to be teased hair new-wavers in rather heavy make-up, but this was the 80's and TV and film never did quite capture the true essence of punk, anyone remember that infamous punk episode of Quincy? The gang of bike riding trouble-makers are are lead by a somewhat threatening chic-punker named Ramrod (Roxanne Rogers) and the ensuing altercation ends with the diner owner dead and his young daughter apparently molested and catatonic. As the punks flee the scene the older daughter Sally (Karen Renee) and her cop boyfriend Steve (Stephen Fiachi) arrive on scene injuring Bobby with his squad car, but the rest of the punks get away.

In the aftermath Bobby is taken to the hospital with a broken arm where a vengeful Sally attempt to stab the punker with a pair of surgical scissors while he's handcuffed to the bed, and failing miserably.  She only further complicates matters when she attempts to track down the punks on her own which leads to her capture, she's stripped down to her undies and chained to a tree, thus becoming their prisoner. 

Her deputy boyfriend Steve enlists the help of the local sheriff and a group of rednecks with rifles whom manage to track the punks to an abandoned farm where a shootout ensues, it's pretty lackluster and not very entertaining in the traditional sense but it plenty entertaining as a slice of inept trash cinema, particularly entertaining is the cigar-chomping Sheriff Virgil (Louis Waldon) who spews a verbal tirade against the commie pinko punk rockers, it's hilarious stuff that expectantly devolves into an cartoonish 80's punks vs. rednecks debacle.

Punk vacation (1987) is a film from a director and writing team who went on to do absolutely nothing else and for a very good reason, this is a stinker! We have a cast of first-time actors giving it their best and still coming up short, perhaps the most egregious offense would be the complete lack of a punk rock soundtrack, instead we get a shitty synth score that does little to enhance the proceedings, not that it would have polished this turd of a revenger but it couldn't have hurt, Keith Morris and Black Flag chugging through "I Don't Care" in HD audio, that would have been fucking sweet! As it is this is a stale "punk" revenger that's just so bad that there might be some intrinsic entertainment value, but you would have to be a serious connoisseur of 80's schlock n' trash to appreciate it.  

Blu-ray: Vinegar Syndrome give this low-budget "punk" revenger a 1080p widescreen (1.85:1) transfer with an MPEG-4 AVC encode from a master that was scanned and restored in 2K from 35mm archival film elements, and considering what a low-rent production it was the presentation is quite stunning. Skin tones are spot on, color reproduction is accurate nicely saturated and there's quite a bit of detail, some of the darker scene suffer from black crush but overall this looks pretty great, way better than it probably deserves to in actuality

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 does the film justice, there's some very minor audio hiss and the dialogue is a bit muffled at times but it's never difficult to decipher. My main beef is that for a film titled Punk Vacation there's very little... um, actually no punk rock to be found anywhere, instead we get some 80's new-wave synth which is quite a disappointment but overall this is a decent audio presentation, but abandon all hopes of a Repo Man (1984) worthy punk soundtrack. 

Main Menu
Onto the the special features we get two video interviews, one with producer Stephen Fusci whom speaks about his previous feature Nomad Riders (1984) and Punk Vacation (1987), his aspirations to become a Roger Corman-esque low-budget producer and working with the original director of the film, whom was apparently quite a pain the ass, he was replaced by cinematographer Daryn Okada at some point during filming. The second video interview is with Production Coordinator Steve Rowland who was also the stunt coordinator on the film, he speaks about teaching the inexperienced cast to ride motorcycles, low budget shortcuts and a scene with the rats that featured in the film  terrorizing an aerobics studio full of women which was cut from the film,  also pointing out that Clint Eastwood was shooting Pale Rider in the very near vicinity plus a fun anecdote about a messy port-a-pottie incident. There's also an image gallery with 100 behind-the-scene pics and still from the film. 

The best extra is the inclusion of the Stephen Fusci produced Nomad Riders (1984) from director Frank Roach presented on the DVD portion of the 2-disc set, sourced from a 1" tape master that's quite watchable in a full screen VHS sorta way, and it's a fun trashy watch. This one features a cop named Steve Thrust (Tony Laschi) who sets out for revenge against a crime boss named Mister Vacci, played by director Frank Roach. Vacci hires a trio of bikers known as the Marauders to send a message to Thrusts, I was never sure what that message was but the Marauders end up blowing-up his wife and child, it's fun stuff. As the film opens Thrust is airborne in a glider (WTF) as his wife and kid wait for him on the ground, as he approaches for landing the bikers arrive on scene and force his wife and kid into a tent, douse it with gasoline and toss in a grenade. As the bikers ride off Thrust lands and in hilarious slow-mo he jumps from the glider and tears off his member's only jacket screaming as the tent goes up in flames. The Marauders next victims are a site surveyor using the a port-a-pottie, again a grenade is used and then they run wild through some old woman's house, destroying it. The first five minutes of this film are pretty great  but the last 75 are not so great with Thrust riding around in his Trans Am with his sunglasses on avenging his families death... when he's not busy bedding a babe, of course. 

Special Features: 
- Video Interviews with producer Stephen Fusci (17:57)

- Video Interview with Production Coordinator Steve Rowland (13:54)
- Still Gallary (4:41)
- Bonus Feature Film: Nomad Riders (82 Minutes) - DVD Only

Verdict: Not sure what would lead Vinegar Syndrome to bestow the 2-disc special edition treatment upon the rather inept Punk Vacation (1987) but every shit 80's revenger should be so damn lucky, it's a great looking release with some striking artwork and the inclusion of the feature length film Nomad Riders (1984) doesn't hurt, it definitely loses points for it's lack of punk rock and the fact that it sorta stinks, definitely a low-rent 80's trash fest. 2 Outta 5 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Blu-ray Review: POSSESSION (1981)

Label: Second Sight Films
Region Code: 
Rating: Cert. 18
Duration: 124 Minutes
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.66:1)
Audio: LPCM 1.0 with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Director: Andrzej Żuławski
Cast: Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Heinz Bennent

Synopsis: With their marriage in tatters Anna (Adjani) and Mark’s (Neill) tense relationship hasbecome a psychotic descent into screaming matches, violence and self-mutilation. Believing his wife’s only lover is the sinister Heinrich, Mark is unaware of the diabolical, tentacled creature that Anna has embarked on an affair with. The unhinged woman visits her monstrous lover in a deserted Berlin apartment and will stop at nothing to protect him.With its dark subject matter and high gore quotient, Possession is not for the faint hearted.

The Film: Possession (1981)  is the harrowing story of a young couple Anna (Isabelle Adjani – Subway) and Mark (Sam Neill – Jurassic Park), as their relationship deteriorates into madness, these two people crumble under the weight of the cold distance that's developed between them, they just can't seem connect in anywayl, they're completely disconnected from each other. Their lives have devolved into daily screaming matches punctuated by outbursts of violence, as Mark becomes more obsessive she becomes more unhinged and distanced. When she asks for a divorce Mark suspects that his wife is having an affair and his fears are confirmed with the revelation of a lover named Heinrich (Heinz Bennent – The Tin Drum)... but she also has another more sinister lover, one more supernatural in nature that neither men know of.

Despite the affair Mark refuses to give her the divorce, soon after Anna flees apartment in the dark of the night, leaving Mark alone to care for their young son Ben. Already a hot mess Mark further spirals out of control without her, slipping in and out of manic and catatonic states, losing his already tenuous grip on reality. He seeks and confronts Heinrich about the affair, Mark attempts to assault his wife's lover but is instead bloodied by the the man who reveals that Anna's left him as well, he has no idea where she might have gone. Returning home Mark finds Anna at the apartment, he confronts here about her whereabouts and beats her bloody before she storms off. The next day a venomous argument in the kitchen results in Anna taking an electric-knife to her neck, in the aftermath Mark can be seen in the kitchen cutting his own arm repeatedly with the same knife. Yeah these two aren't healthy for each other  dysfunctional doesn't even begin to capture what's happening here.

After the neck-shredding wound Anna again disappears and Mark hires a private eye to track down his wife, in the interim he takes up a brief affair with his son's school teacher Helen (also played by Adjani). The investigator tracks her down to a shitty unfurnished apartment and under false pretense gains access to the dwelling, inside he discovers a strange tentacled creature and Anna's slashes him with a broken-bottle, now the film gets even stranger! More deaths, more psychotic behavior and a freakish apocalyptic ending, it gets a bit confusing but I gotta say that I loved this film!

What a weird and beautiful film, they just don't make 'em like this anymore, that's for sure! A strange, frenzied psychological thriller set in the shadow of the oppressive East Berlin Wall. Sam Neil and Isabelle Adjani are fantastic in their unhinged performances, particularly Adjani who gives a terrifying performance during a subway miscarriage/possession scene, it was pretty gut-wrenching stuff as she seeps various fluids from pretty much every possible orifice, bizarre stuff! Neil is an underrated actor, this might be my favorite performance, definitely check out him out in Even Horizon (1997) and John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness (1995). The film also benefits from some grotesque special effects and make-up from Italian legend Carlo Rambaldi (Alien, Dune) but what anchors the film are the passionate and erratic performances from the two leads, daring stuff that t times threaten to go off the rails but I think they're great, particularly Adjan who completely loses herself in the role, truly a bravura performance.

A few quick facts, the film was banned in the UK as a Video Nasty alongside the films of Lucio Fulcio and Dario Argento but watching it now I can hardly see why, it's harrowing and creepy but not overly offensive or even that graphic. Apparently much like David Cronenberg during The Brood director Andrzej Żuławski was enduring a bitter divorce with his wife at the time with a child thrown into the mix, you can see it's influence on the film. In the US the film was re-edited and cut by some forty minutes with a new score and some poorly executed solarization effects, this edition is the original director's features. 

Blu-ray: Andrzej Żuławski's Possession (1981) arrives on Region-B locked Blu-ray for the first time from the UK's Second Sight Films with an MPEG-4 AVC encode, presented in 1080p widescreen (1.66:1) it's looks quite nice in it's restored glory. Sourced from a gorgeous print with nice strong colors and a fair amount of depth, this is a very pleasing presentation. Some of the darker shadow detail is lacking from time to time but overall this is a very nice image with some nice hi-def clarity, cinematographer Bruno Nuytten's excellent visuals have never looked better than on this Blu-ray, great shots and framing from start to finish, a very striking film.

The English language LPCM 1.0 mono audio is nice, the sound design is fantastic with a creepy but sparse score from Andrzej Korzynski - it's powerful stuff, definitely a film that brings the visual and audio elements together in superb fashion. Unfortunately we don't get a stereo or surround mix but what we get sounds quite nice, dialogue, effects and score are balanced and crisp, there are also optional English SDH subtitles.  

Onto the special features we get two audio commentaries, one with director  Andrzej Żuławski and a second with co-writer Frederic Zulawaski, a fantastic 51 minute retrospective making of documentary and interviews with director Andrzej Żuławski, composer Andrzej Korzynski and producer Christian Ferry. We also get two featurettes, one about the artist who created the theatrical artwork and a second  featuring a comparison of the original cut and the awful re-cutting of the film for cinemas in the U.S., I love these type of features! The last f the extras is a theatrical trailer, this is quite an outstanding set of extras.  There's no uncut version of the film on Blu-ray in the U.S. so if you love this film get yourself a region-free Blu-ray player, it's so worth it!

Special Features: 
- The Other Side of the Wall - The Making of Possession
- Audio Commentary with Andrzej Żuławski
- Audio Commentary with Frederic Tuten
- Andrzej Żuławski Interview
- Repossessed – The Re-Editing of Possession
- A Divided City – Interview with the composer Andrzej Korzynski
- Our Friend in the West – Interview with legendary producer Christian
- Basha – featurette on the artist who created the famed film poster
- Theatrical Trailer

Verdict: Possession (1981) is a taut, paranoid psychological thriller with some nice horrific elements and arthouse leanings, it's a tense bit of insanity that makes for a rewarding and uncomfortable watch. Second Sight continue to put out some fantastic Blu-ray editions with awesome special features, a high recommend! I will definitely be checking out more films from Polish auteur Andrzej Żuławski after this mesmerizing introduction, great stuff.  4 Outta 5