Friday, January 31, 2014

DVD Review: PROFANE (2011)

PROFANE (2011) 
Label: Artvamp
Duration: 78 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0
Director: Usama Alshaibi
Cast: Manal Kara, Molly Plunk, Dejan Mircea

Iraqi-American filmmaker Usama Alshaibi's film Profane (2011) is advertised as a psychedelic glimpse into the world of a young Muslim Dominatrix in the midst of a spiritual crisis and that about sums it up nicely. We have a twenty-something young woman named Muna (Manal Kara) who is a Muslim dominatrix living in Chicago and when she's not smacking genitalia with the business end of a riding-prod she's going through a bit of a spiritual crisis. Shot docu-style the film introduces us to her dominatrix friends as they exchange scatological stories, smoke weed and ride around the city in a cab looking for food and fun and fulfillment.

Spurred by a conversations with a devout Muslim cabdriver she seeks her spiritual self but struggles with her faith and an empty sexual relationship with her boyfriend who craves more friendship and less fucking which she finds that hard to do, preferring instead to fill the void with more emptiness. Furthermore she suffers from disembodied voices speaking to her which may  or may not belong to a demonic presence called a Jinn.

There's  a fair amount of arthouse pretension on hand with blurry close-ups, scattered editing and a somewhat non-linear story punctuated by scenes of what appears to be an exorcism - at times it feels like a film school senior project and that's okay but as a cohesive film it failed to come together for me. 

While the story is a bit piece meal the imagery is oftentimes quite interesting with a steady stream of spiritual and surreal erotic imagery, it definitely creates a specific atmosphere from time to time but lacks cohesion. I think it's entirely possible the material would have resonated with me if I understood the Muslim a bit faith more.

Highlights for me were the low-budget psychedelia and sexual imagery with kinky scenarios involving a riding-prod and geniality, strap-on fun and rope bondage and whatnot but at the end of the day it failed to connect with me with the exception of some superficial titillation but the spiritual journey didn't work for me. 2 Outta 5.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Label: One 7 Movies
Region: 0 NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 98 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.77:1) 
Director: Fons Rademakers
Cast:  Bryan Marshall, Alexandra Stewart, Sylvia Kristel

Synsopsis: Sylvia Kristel, of Emmanuelle fame, stars in this nasty rape and revenge thriller in which a gang of wealthy bastards break into peaceful homes and rape the women while forcing their husbands to watch in pain. Inspector van der Walk (Bryan Marshall) a strong-willed police cop, is determined to make them pay for their awful crimes but the members of the gang are bounded by an oath that is linked in some unpredictable ways to some high ranking people in the upper echelon of the Dutch society. Thus begins a painstaking quest for truth and to make sure that the ruthless gang of rapists is put behind bars. But van der Walk has to play against all odds...

Not sure why this one was re titled for it's American release on DVD but its only slightly better known as Because Of The Cats (1973) which is what the title card for the film advertises. This is a Dutch/Belgium co-production from 1973 with the dramatic tendencies of a classic crime procedural with the more exploitative elements of a 70's rape-revenger beginning with a nasty bit of business right at the start. A middle-aged upper crust couple arrive home to discover a group of stocking-masked miscreants have broken in, the youths rape the woman several times over as her helpless husband can only look on in horror as they hurl mean-spirited taunts at him.

Inspector Van der Walk (Bryan Marshall) is on the case, this just one in a series of similar incidents. As the film plays out  it's a pretty straight faced procedural as the inspector sets about sleuthing the crime which leads him to The Ravens - a gang of teenage tyrants, violent, middle class snots with a bit too much time on their hands. There are also female counterpart to the male delinquents, a foul-mouthed cadre of young women known about town as The Cats. Van der Walk investigates and interrogates various suspects which leads him down a path some members of polite society wish he would just abandon. 

The DVD cover would have you believe that this one is a rape-revenger through and through  and while it does to a degree that's just one part of the story, this is way more of a police procedural and it's a bit of a slow burn but I rather like a drawn out story, especially when it goes a bit nutty at the end. The cast is only just decent - no one's pouring themselves into these characters - though it was nice to see a very young and gorgeous Sylvia Kristel (from the Emmanuelle films) here in what amounts to only a peripheral appearance despite what the marketing of the film would have you believe, exploitation indeed.

The film starts of scuzzy with the home invasion and rape but quickly settles into crime thriller mode for awhile before we have a surreal nude swimming orgy/death scene then straight into some fun erotic ritual weirdness. The transition is a bit jarring but I just went with it. Note to cat-lovers, you should be aware that no less than three kitties are skinned, skewered and stabbed to death in short order here - you've been warned. 

Brutalization (1973) comes to DVD from One 7 Movies with an anamorphic widescreen (1.77:1) transfer that quite watchable if unremarkable. Color reproduction is strong but detail and clarity are lacking  plus there's some some unfortunate DNR scrubbing and edge enhancement on display. On the bright side the source elements are in great shape with only minor print damage. Similarly the English mono audio is unimpressive but I dig the funky Ruud Bos score, the only extra is a theatrical trailer for the film. 

Rape-revenge enthusiasts might be disappointed by the lack of the visceral stuff other than the uncomfortable scene at the top of the film as this one tends not to play up the exploitative elements too much, but it's a decent watch. A time slice of Euro-Cult with some sweet nudity and a pretty decent story if not a lot of juice. 2.5 Outta 5 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

DVD Review: SEX HUNTER: 1980 (1980)

SEX HUNTER: 1980 (1980) 
Label: Impulse Pictures
Region Code: 1 NTSC
Duration: 68 minute
Rating: Unrated 
Release Date: February 11, 2014
Audio: Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Toshiharu Ikeda
Cast: Erina Miyai, Ayako Oota, Teruo Matsuyama

A young ballet dancer named Miki (Ayako Ohta) gains notice of a young and very attractive dance instructor named Kaibara (Erina Miyai) who  invites the young dancer to her mansion/private academy. Once inside the young woman is treated to a recital from Kainara's students and is asked to join the private academy. Afterwards the teacher undresses in front of the young woman with the assistance of  Headmaster Kel and then pours Miko a strange liquor which immediately sends her head swimming, Ms. Kaibara then attempts to seduce Miki who runs into the next room where she happens upon the dancers from the recital who are now entwined like a four-headed beast in an orgy of young flesh. Dizzy and not-quite-herself young Miki is seduced by the erotic-spell of Ms. Kaibara.

After the initial awkwardness of the situation Miki is game to her teachers sex games, that is until she is passed off to Headmaster Kel (Rei Aso) who robs her of her virginity while she's forced to watch in a mirror. He then ties her up performig some kinky rope bondage before greasing her up for more carnality... and then come the soda enemas.

You heard right, Headmaster Kel shoves six fizzy long necks of cola right up her snatch one after the other before hoisting her up on a rope and pulley while forcing her to hold in the frothy mixture.  Miki is swinging like a pinata in the air until she finally erupts in a carbonated geyser of fizzy lifting drinks. Slowly but surely the young woman is transformed from an unwilling participant into a sex-puppet begging for it, literally sucking toes for just a taste of sexual debasement. That seems to be the theme here, the corruption of innocence and beauty transformed through humiliation and sexual degradation and the filmmaker doesn;t pull any punches either.

You get a taste of nearly every fetish you would care to imagine with few stones left unturned. We have a bit of foot-fucking, rope bondage, double-teamed on a swing, tragic wheelchair sex, whipping, urine drinking, cum transferred mouth-to-mouth and incest, of course, there must be incest.

As unflinching and brutal as the film can be it's gorgeously shot with scope cinematography and stylish composition that seems to riffs a bit on Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977) if the private academy was run by a perverse headmistress instead of witches, there are also some nice architectural flourishes and colored lighting that brought to mind  that particular Argento classic.

Sex Hunter: 1980 arrives on DVD from Impulse Pictures with an anamorphic widescreen (2:35:1) presentation with a great looking transfer sourced from a very nice print. A very crisp image with vibrant colors, this release definitely deserves a Blu-ray. The Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 sounds nice with balanced levels and optional English subtitles. Special features are limited to a trailer and booklet with liner notes from film scholar Jasper Sharp - which was absent from the screener sent for review.

This one's a dark slice of  erotic cinema that comes across as a sex-infused version of Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977) and the end result is a satisfying and gorgeous slice of exploitation cinema with excellent performances from the cast. 3.5 Outta 5 

Monday, January 27, 2014


Label: Impulse Pictures
Region: 1 NTSC

Rating: Unrated
Duration: 69 minutes 
Audio: Dolby Digital Japanese 2.0 Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (2:35:1)
Director: Yukihiro Sawada
Cast: Aoyama Miyoko, George Harrison, Isayama Hiroko

My wife loves to says that the erotic and exploitation cinema sent to the Mausoleum corrupts me in some weird way and will not suffer it being watched in the house. What can I say, I'm totally whipped guys but I love her a bunch and she asks so very little of me why not just humor that one request. I usually tuck away the naughty stuff for a rainy day when I'm home alone - which seems to be never - and watch one when I can without fear of upsetting my better half. As it happens I'm out of town on an extended business trip and brought with me a year's worth of naughty cinema so consider this review an early start on what's shaping up to be a very freaky February at the Mausoleum with titles from One 7 Movies, Impulse Pictures and Vinegar Syndrome being reviewed daily. Enjoy!

Sex Hunter: Wet Target (1972) is an early Roman-Porno entry that's a more of a revenge-thriller along the lines of Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973) than a nasty slice of erotic cinema, but only just barely. A story of vengeance as sought by Okamoto (Jojo Sawada), the brother of Natsuko (Miyoko Aoyama), a young woman gang-raped and hung till death by a trio of drunken American soldiers on a weekend bender in Japan.

The opening scenes of the rape of Natsuko and her best friend Etsuko (Hiroko Isayama) is gut-punching stuff and not for the timid. It only gets worse with each subsequent flashback to the tragic night as more and more details are revealed as details are remembered by eye-witnesses - each new flashback revealing yet another layer of depravity.

Okamoto's is haunted by his sisters nightmarish death and his search for the offenders sends him to work at a strip club where his sister was once employed. Immersed in the underbelly of the seedy nightclub he performs a live-sex show with Etsuko who survived the attack but suffers from some form of brain-damage following the incident. The two join forces along with the club owner, a former lover of the victim who knows more than he initially lets on. Okamoto's single-minded quest for revenge transforms him into a rather despicable person, in fact I found it increasingly difficult to sympathize with a character who mouth-rapes (and quite a bit more) women who are blameless in the matter even if they weren't particularly sympathetic character themselves.

So what we end-up with is a violent rape-revenger wrapped up in the seedy trappings of a trashy exploitation film with a lot of what you might expect. The dark titillation of live sex shows, plenty of nudity, plus the gang-rape and sickening degradation of women. Not only raped but pissed upon afterward and when a man accidentally stumbles upon the crime in progress he is forced to lick the urine from her body- it's dark stuff... and then there's the whole vomiting cum after being mouth-raped scene... 

The DVD from Impulse Pictures looks great with a anamorphioc widescreen (2.35:1) transfer that's solid and a decent Japanese language Dolby Digital tracks with optional English subtitles. Special features are pretty bare with just a trailer and the usual booklet with liner notes from Japanese film scholar Jasper Sharp - which are quite informative.

Par for the course for the Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection is how very strange a watch this winds up being. Not so typical is what  damn decent violent, revenge-thriller it turned out to be. Of course, there's the prerequisite naked women and oodles of sleaze plus the added bonus of an compelling story  which cannot be said of all the Nikkatsu movies. A decent watch - even our protagonist is a low-life - if you crave rape-revengers with some strong exploitation elements this just might be for you. 3 Outta 5 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Cult-Classic POPCORN (1991) Coming to BD/DVD from SYNAPSE FILMS 2014

Synapse Films announced via their Facebook page a few days ago that they will be bringing the much sought after film POPCORN (1991)  to BD/DVD in 2014. The release will feature a brand new 2K restoration of the film original vault materials and new extras from Michael Felsher’s Red Shirt Pictures. This is pretty damn exciting new as I've personally been wanting to see this movie for ages! 

POPCORN (1991) 
Buy A Bag, Go Home In A Box!

Popcorn, the 1991 cult classic starring Jill Schoelen (The Stepfather, Cutting Class), Malcolm Danare (Christine, Heaven Help Us), Dee Wallace (E.T. the Extra-terrestrial, The Frighteners, The Lords of Salem) and Tom Villard (One Crazy Summer, My Girl) is coming to Special Edition Blu-ray and DVD from Synapse Films, Inc in 2014!

This release will give fans a brand-new 2K restoration of the film, taken directly from original vault materials. Supplementary materials from Michael Felsher’s Red Shirt Pictures will round out the exciting package. While the line-up of bonus materials has not yet been finalized, it will feature a retrospective documentary on the making of and legacy of Popcorn along with more extra features currently in the planning stages.

“We are thrilled to be working closely with Kristy Jett and Red Shirt Pictures to bring Popcorn out properly. We now have some amazing materials, including the original camera negative and 35mm Interpositive materials to go through, to make sure this release is the best it can be. We just got a palette of amazing stuff we have to sort through for extras, including never before seen behind-the-scenes photos, documents, vintage interview tapes and even an alternate, never used original movie poster design that I found in the bottom of a random box,” says Donald May, Jr., President of Synapse Films.

Getting Popcorn to this point started very simply with a dedicated fan, Kristy Jett of HorrorHound Magazine, launching a Facebook page with the sole purpose of gaining momentum to encourage a distributor to re-release Popcorn. A year in, she gained the support and guidance of Michael Felsher and within the next year she had secured advocacy from Don May, Jr. and Jerry Chandler of Synapse Films. In late 2013, Synapse Films was able to finally secure the rights to the film, to bring it out properly for the fans.

“Make no mistake, this would not have happened without the support and efforts of Don May, Jr. and Jerry Chandler of Synapse. Other companies inquired over the years but Don and Jerry fought alongside me for the past two years. Without them or Michael Felsher, we would not be here.” –Kristy Jett

More details will be released in the coming months, including the release date (estimated date is Halloween 2014, but this is not confirmed). In the meantime, keep up to date on developments at Popcorn’s Facebook fan page:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

DVD Review: REEL ZOMBIES (2008)


Label: Synapse Films
Release Date: February 11th 2014
Region: 0
Duration: 89 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Directors: Michael Masters. David J. Francis
Cast: Michael Masters, David J. Francis, Stephen Papadimitriou, Sam Hall, Paul Fler

Redbox, Netflix and the shelves at Best Buy are littered with low-budget found footage-type and zombie films - the market is stuffed to the gills with both. It should be no surprise that there are a number of mash-up movies that meld the two ideas,  it's not exactly a new conceit, For better or worse George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead and Zombie Diaries come to immediately to mind. Now filmmakers Michael Masters and David J. Francis have thrown their own hat into the ring with a mockumentary variation on the sub-genre exploiting the low-budget movie making process. Reel Zombies (2008) features  the co-directors of a shot-on-video zombie franchise exploiting the real-life zombie apocalypse happening around them. There's stoke of genius is to use the actual undead to amp up the production value of their schlocky zombie gore-fest. It's really a slice of pure inspiration and you just know Roger Corman would have done something very similar if the zombie apocalypse had happened during the New World Pictures golden age.  .

It goes for comedy straight from the get-go as the duo put together a script and rag tag film crew to get the production underway. Holding script meetings, location scouting and casting sessions requiring women to bare their assets. Sure, the zombie apocalypse is in full swing but its nice to know that some things never change. Along the way we experience the true-spirit of independent filmmaking in a very real way, you could actually learn quite a bit about making low-budget movies watching this one. Shot like a pretty typical behind-the-scenes documentary with interviews from cast and crew with clips from the previous Zombie Night movies stitched in alongside new raw footage from the new sequel in progress.  We see both the positive and negative of having actual zombies on set. Spoiler Alert! The downside is that the undead extras just might eat you if you're not careful, gotta love it. So whatya do when your star is eaten by a zombie - you get that shit on film obviously! 

The film sorta went where I figured it would with a  few surprises, but even if you're expecting it what you may not expect is just how fun the script and characters are. It's a fun variation on the mockumentary plus with a decent cast and the gore is pretty satisfying. There's a lot to enjoy including an appearance from Lloyd Kaufman as himself and some fun commentary on Troma and Lloyd built into the script. which is self-aware but not too clever for it's own good if you know what I mean. 

Special Features
- Audio Commentary with Directors Mike Masters and David J. Francis, and Producer Stephen Papadimitriou
- Over 40 Minutes of Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
Original Trailer

Verdict: A second watch of the movie confirmed that it holds up to repeat viewings, it's quite funny and the performances are spot on. If you enjoyed the mockumentaries Behind the Mask: The Rise and Fall of Leslie Vernon (2006) and Brutal Massacre: A Comedy (2007) I think this is a watch for you. 3 Outta 5 


Label: Inception Media Group
Region: 1 NTSC

Duration: 84 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.78:1)
Cast: Alan Calton, Alf Thompson, Dylan Jones, Feth Greenwood, George McCluskey, Jason Beeston, Lee Bennett, Vivien Vilela
Director: Mark Atkins

Knight of the Dead (2012) comes from the same distribution company that brought us zombies vs. Old West gunslingers with the low-budget The Dead and the Damned (2010). They're latest offering features the undead vs. medieval crusaders and is directed by Mark Atkins who previously directed several 
 "mockbusterproductions from The Asylum which were aimed at cashing-in on popular movies with similarly titled direct-to-video titles like Battle of Los Angles, Jack the Giant Killer and Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls - none of which I've seen to be fair. By the same token I've had zero interest in watching any of those films for the simple fact that there are so many original and unique indie filmmakers out there struggling for an audience, Why waste my time watching something that exists solely to cash-in on someone else ingenuity. I love 70's exploitation cinema but these mockbusters rarely rise to the level of what filmmakers like Roger Corman and his crew were doing in decades past - they seem so crass and uninspired. 

With that in mind I was quite reluctant to give this a spin but the movie starts off interestingly enough with a renaissance style animated sequence which gives us a bit of the back story about a plague that's beset mankind turning the infected into flesh-hungry zombies. We have a priest and a band of knights escorting him through what's known as the Valley of Black Death - a place infested with the plague and zombies. The priest has been charged with delivering the Holy Grail but hordes of the undead and evil assassins stand in their way - that's pretty much the story - not too bad. 

The locations used in the film shot around the UK look decent and period specific. The filmmakers make great use of what appear to be authentic ancient ruins to get the most from a low budget and the costuming is pretty decent. Some of the tunics and cowls looked a little too new and could have used some aging but that's about it. . 

However, the acting is pretty spotty ranging from decent to downright distracting. The main baddie chews it up pretty badly with over-the-top line delivery that took me straight out of the film every single time he appeared onscreen. The deaths are pretty decent but rendered with help of cheap digital blood spatter and gore - not a fan. The udead were a huge problem for me - they didn't feel undead and that was a major problem when the undead make-up a large part of your film. 

The filmmakers do a decent job with coverage and getting some decent shots that are framed nicely but the editing was a bit choppy and the action sequences were frantic and that annoyed me. in addition everything is put through a filter which desaturated the color to a bland cold blue grey scale which is way overused. This Holy Grail story wrapped up in medieval zombie construct had potential but in the end it just didn't add up for me, it's not terrible it's something a bit worse - boring. 2 Outta 5 



Label: Millennium Entertainment
Region: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 92 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.77:1)
Director: Terrence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters, Robert Morris, Duncan Lamont, Peter Blythe

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) opens with a pre-credit sequence of a drunken and belligerent man being lead to the guillotine on the charge of murder. The moment before his head is lopped-off by the blade his young son Hans stumbles upon the scene witnessing the shocking decapitation. Some years later the boy now a young man (Robert Morris) is the service of Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing, Corruption) and his absent minded assistant Dr Hertz (Thorley Walters, Vampire Circus). The Baron has been experimenting with a primitive form of cryogenics and the idea of trapping the soul after death and transferring it into to a new host body, a new metaphysical twist on the Frankenstein story. It's worth noting up front that this film has very little connective tissue to the previous film The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) where it seemed the Baron perished in flames.

Young Hans' lover Christina (Susan Denberg) is a barmaid and the daughter of a local barkeep, her face is hideously scarred on one side and the deformity is a cause for taunting from a trio of dandy young bloods lead by Anton (Peter Blythe) who ridicule her mercilessly. These taunts anger Hans who slices Anton across the face, it's this sudden outburst of anger which makes him the prime suspect when Christina's father is found murdered a short time later. A very short trial ends with Hans following in his father's footsteps - losing his head at the guillotine.

When Christina finds out only too late that Hans is dead she throws herself from a bridge to her water death. The corpses of the young lovers end up at the home of Dr. Hertz where the Baron sets about extracting the soul of Hans and transferring it into the corpse of Christina. This bit of science fiction is glossed over pretty damn quickly with very little explanation. It somehow involves two large heat-lamp looking apparatuses and a glowing sphere - that's pretty much it - very silly stuff. Once Christina is revived the docs perform additional miraculous surgeries/treatments and her physical scarring s completely healed - and now she's a blonde and has no memory... don't ask, just go with it.

It's at this point that those responsible for the death of Christina's father and the wrongful execution of Hans meet their demise in very quick succession - it's almost a montage. This aspect of the film had a strong flavor of Hammer  Hands of the Ripper (1971) which came a few years later. Christina is now possessed and compelled to seek revenge, seducing and murders the culprits.

The script is pretty sub par but Hammer veteran Terrence Fisher (Dracula: Prince of Darkness) does his best to keep the production together despite the shortcomings. He manages to creating a decent anmount of atmosphere aided in no small part by a great score from Hammer in-house composer James Bernard. Always the consummate professional Peter Cushing turns in a solid performance. The remaining cast are pretty decent including veteran actor Thorley Walters as the absent-minded doc and Blythe as the 1960's equivalent of a 1980's douche bag. Robert Morris and Susan Denberg didn't do a lot for me here, they were adequate but not much presence onscreen, though she is quite attractive,  particulary after her transformation into a blond revenge-murderess.

At the end of the day this is a decent Hammer production with a cool metaphysical twist that's just not fleshed out very well.  Also, the idea of putting the soul of a man into the body of a woman could have been explored way more - there's just so much potential there that goes absolutely nowhere - this could have been a psycho-sexual masterpiece. The resolution wasn't quite satisfying either - it just happens too damn fast. I didn't love it but I don't loathe it either, a decent Hammer thriller but not one that will merit a lot of repeat viewings.

Blu-ray: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) makes it's North America debut with an MPEG4-AVC encode in widescreen  (1.77:1),  not scope (2.35:1) as indicated on the Blu-ray. The image features a pleasing grain structure without evidence of undo digital scrubbing. The print is very nice, suffering very little damage with the exception of some minor speckling. It's sort of a drab earth tone film.  the colors are not exactly vivid but they are consistent. it's a rather flat presentation with only very modest depth but the fine detail is decent when resolving textured surfaces and facial expressions. When compared to the region 2 version found on The Hammer Collection 21-Disc Box Set this is a very nice upgrade and where that version is bare bones this is nicely stocked with extras.

As with the Dracula - Prince of Darkness Blu-ray Millennium Entertainment have opted to offer only English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with optional English Subtitles - there is no lossless audio option. The track is nicely balanced and clear but the score from James Bernard quite good and would have benefited from a sonic upgrade.

Onto the extras we have a  nice selection of supplements beginning with an audio commentary from Hammer expert Jonathan Rogby and actors Derek Fowlds who was the leader of young bloods while Robert Morris portrayed Hans. It's a bit dry but does offer up some production info and anecdotal stories that are intriguing and oftentimes humorous.

There's a brand new documentary entitled Hammer Glamour with interviews from a few very memorable members of Hammer's plunging neckline brigade including Valerie Leon (Blood from the Mummy's Tomb), Caroline Munroe (Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter), Martine Beswicke (Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde), Vera Day and Madeline Smith (Taste the Blood of Dracula) and Jenny Hanley (Scars of Dracula). Madeline Smith is surprisingly chaste and talks the wrong sort of fans and her regret of appearing nude in The Vampire Lovers while remembering what a sweetie her co-star Ingrid Pitt was. Exotic beauty Martina Beswicke recalls working on the Bond films plus Roy Ward Baker on several movies and working with Raquel Welch plus she alludes to a swinging lifestyle - she seems like she was a wild one. Actress Jenny Hanley offers up a fun story about Peter Walker's sneaky attempt to get her nude on camera and Christopher Lee's seriousness on set while Valerie Leon tells of how she felt that Blood from the Mummy's Tomb was a cursed production. This is a great mini-doc that also mention other Hammer beauties like Dorian Dores, Hazel Cortze, Barbara Shelley, Susan Denberg, Susanna Lee and the Collinson twins,  a fun introduction to the Ladies of Hammer.

Also on the disc are two full episodes of the World of Hammer (1990) TV series narrated by legendary Brit Oliver Reed (Burnt Offerings) spotlighting the careers of Peter Cushing and Hammer's Frankenstein series. The extras on the disc are finished off with theatrical trailer, animated stills plus an envelope containing five collectible cards featuring poster art and promotional stillsfor the film. I may be lukewarm on the film but this is a solid  release from Millennium that I am pleased to put on the shelf next to other great Hammer Blu-ray titles from Synapse and Shout! Factory we've seen this past year - more please!

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Derek Fowlds, Robert Morris and Jonathan Rogby
- Brand New Documentary -  Hammer Glamour (44:07) HD
- Stills Gallery (7:07)
- World of Hammer Ep 4 'Hammer Stars: Peter Cushing' (24:54) 
- World of Hammer Ep 'The Curse of Frankenstein' (25:56)
- Frankenstein Created Woman Trailer (2:39)
- Envelope with 5 Exclusive Collectible Cards

Verdict: I was not as enamored with Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) as with many other Hammer Productions but it does have that certain Gothic charm and a solid performance from Peter Cushing plus a new metaphysical twist on the Frankenstein story. The disc sports a solid audio visual presentation and the over an hours worth of extras make this is a very attractive purchase. There's still more Hammer horror on the way with 1080p presentations of Quartermass and the Pit (1958), The Plague of the Zombies (1966) and The Devil Rides Out (1968) planed from Millennium Entertainment! 2.75 Outta 5 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Blu-ray Review: DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920)

Label: Kino Classics
Region: A

Duration: 79 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: LPCM 2.0 with English Intertitles

Video: 1080p Full Screen (1.33:1)
Director: John S. Robertson
Cast: John Barrymore, Louis Wolheim, Martha Mansfield, Nita Naldi

Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of the duality inherent to us all received the silent treatment in 1920 from director John S. Robertson starring Hollywood legend John Barrymore as Dr. Henry Jekyll. The doc is a philanthropist who tends to the needs of the poor before those of his own and his pretty fiance Millicent (Martha Mansfield). One night over dinner colleagues make-fun of how good natured he is and speculate that he's missing out on life by tending to the needs of others before his own. The conversation plants a seed that turns into an obsession that he can extract the very essence of evil through chemistry. Jekyll holds-up at his lab for days while concocting a serum which he then drinks. Thus his deranged alter ego Edward Hyde is born, the transformation from good to evil happens onscreen and is one I would put against Lon Chaney's turn in Universal full moon classic The Wolf Man (1941). Barrymore's contortions are superb and done quite simply but effectively, his clawed hands and changed visage are very rather eerie to watch

It's a classic tale and this pre-code silent era classic holds up to scrutiny to a degree. Having grown-up on steady-diet of An American Werewolf in Paris and The Thing may have jaded me somewhat to the antiquated techniques but there's still a lot to appreciate here. A bit of trivia to accompany your viewing, starlet 
Martha Mansfield died shortly after making this film when a match ignited her dress on the set of a film sending her up in flames. A decent exploration of the duality of man as Jekyll struggles to maintain control of the hideous alter ego as his life spirals downward leading up to a tragic end, a high recommend to silent era horror buffs and a cautious recommend to everyone else.
Blu-ray: The silent-era pre-code classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Classics newly remastered in HD from a 35mm negative with an MPEG-4 AVC encode. The quality of the presentation varies from scene to scene ranging from very nice to more significant instances of wear and age as you might expect of a ninety-three year old film. The quality fluctuates quite a bit according to the source material but what we have is the best we're likely to see. Screen grabs have been provided below comparing the Kino Classics presentation to the version found on Mill Creek Entertainment's Horror Classics collection, it's a significant jump in contrast, clarity and brightness. The Blu-ray features an evocative score from The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra presented in LPCM 2.0 with English language title cards - the score is quite enjoyable and quite an improvement over organ scores that accompany various public domain versions on various collections. 

Onto the Blu-ray extras we have the inclusion of three versions of Stevenson's story. An early 1912 nickelodeon version plus a 14 minute excerpt of Louis B. Mayer's competing version from 1920. A nice extra is the inclusion of the parody 'Mr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride' starring  Stan Laurel of the Laurel and Hardy comedy duo. The last bonus is a rare 1909 audio recording  excerpt from a Columbia Records presentation of the climactic scenes which is awesome - this track is 104 years-old - presented in English LPCM 2.0

Kino Classics - Top
Mill Creek Entertainment - Bottom 

Special Features:
- Mastered in HD from acrhival 35mm elements
- Musical score compiled by Rodney Sauer, performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the 1912 Thanhouser version, starring James Cruze  (13:48) Courtesy of Film Preservation Associates
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a 15-minute cut of the rival 1920 version, starring Sheldon Lewis, produced by Louis B. Mayer (14:44)
-  "Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride," a 1925 slapstick parody starring Stan Laurel  (21:30)
- "The Transformation Scene," a rare 1909 audio recording (2:42) 

Verdict: Your mileage will vary on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)  depending on your tendencies towards silent-era cinema but for film buffs with a serious interest in pre-code silent horror this is a fantastic watch with the best available presentation and some neat extras. 3 Outta 5 

Blu-ray Review: BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)

Label: Arrow Video
Region Code: B
Duration: 99 Minutes 
Rating: Certificate 15
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 Audio with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1)
Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax
Director: John Carpenter

It must have been the summer of 1987 when I first saw John Carpenter's cult-classic comedy projected on the big screen at Hadley Hall in Willard, NY. Hadley Hall was an auditorium at the Willard Psychiatric Center which opened it's doors to the divergent masses in 1869 . Twenty-four years later a 500 seat auditorium opened and the space was used for performances and lectures. In 1920 a cinema screen and projector were added and on Monday nights movies were projected for the enjoyment of patients and staff. 

Sixty-five years later my father was employed at the psychiatric center working and one day informed me that they screened movies at the asylum on Saturday mornings and that I could attend if I wanted. Now the nearest theater as thirty miles away and a pretty rare experience for me so of course I wanted to go! Nearly every Saturday afterward from about 1986-'87 found me at the psyche center watching projected movies with the crazies.

Hadley Hall photo courtesy of Louis Q Photography
Dad would drop me off in front of Hadley and I would walk up the stairs into the main auditorium and find a seat among the patients in fold-up chairs. Typically I would chose to sit on the exercise equipment that lined the rear of the auditorium if possible or in the balcony area which was usually roped off for some reason. I reasoned it was because the patients might be tempted to jump off and injure themselves. There would be a handful of other kids my age enjoying the movies, most likely the offspring of other employees such as myself. The psych center was an open campus and it seemed that many of the patients were free to wander the grounds as long as they were back in time for bed check.  I was no stranger to the facility and would frequently visit my father while he was at work and I had a familiarity with being around the patients, knowing several by name. In retrospect it may seem odd but at the time I wasn't alarmed to be watching movies with the nutters. Sure a few were a bit peculiar and prone to tourettic outbursts but it wasn't anymore distracting than a typical Friday at the cinema today with annoying chatty teens texting away. 

The programming was pretty eclectic, a nice mix of repertory and second-run showings of comedies, fantasy-adventure and drama. A few of the movies I watched there include Armed and Dangerous, Spies Like Us, Cloak and Dagger, King Solomon's Mines, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, King Kong Lives, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, Foul play (1982), 2001: A Space Odyssey and I shit you not - a screening of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest which was all sorts of wrong and the delicious irony was not at all lost on me even at the young age of thirteen. I look back on these magical screenings with a true sense of nostalgia and my love of Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd  comedies started here. I would love to meet the programmers who brought these movies to Willard Psychiatric Center and helped shape my cinematic tastes during these  formative teen years and just say thank you for saving me from boredom for ninety-minutes at a time. .

That long winded tangent brings me to my first viewing of John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China (1986) a classic slice of cult-cinema screened at the psyche center sometime in 1987. Probably not too very long after it bombed at the box office. I don't recall having seen any advertising or promotion for the film prior to watching it and if you know the story of how the studio dropped the ball promoting the film that may not be a surprise. At that point I hadn't started identifying directors as the creators of movies. I'd watched Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980) and The Thing (1982) hadn't connected the dots and attributed them to the work of one man. When it came to directors I pretty much knew who Steven Spielberg was and that was about it. As it happened Carpenter was coming off the success of the science fiction romance Starman (1984) following the box office failure of The Thing - a movie that has since evolved into one of the most revered fright flicks of all time. Having redeemed himself the studio offered Carpenter this project and after reading the W.D. Richter (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) penned script jumped on board. A lifelong fan of kung fu cinema Carpenter was pretty stoked to bring a big budget chop socky fantasy-adventure-comedy to the screen.

At it's heart Big Trouble in Little China is a goofy fantasy-adventure romp loaded with Chinese mysticism and crazy over-the-top martial arts action. Kurt Russell is a truck driver Jack Burton who becomes entangled in the bizarre when his friend Wang's (Dennis Dun) soon-to-be wife Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) is abducted from the airport by the Chinese gang Lords of Death at the request of the dreaded sorcerer Lo Pan, played by actor James Hong (BladeRunner) who is is fantastic as the squealing and conniving sorcerer.

Jack Burton is a sort of half-ass John Wayne type who peels off some of the most quotable one-liners in all of cinema. Full of tough-talking bravado but with absolutely nothing to back it up. Barely rising to the status of anti-hero he's just a big-mouthed jackass who'd be dead twice over of not for the heroics of his diminutive ass kicking friend Wang. 

As the plot unfolds we discover that the sorcerer Lo Pan requires Wang's green-eyed girl to perform a ritual sacrifice which will free him from a centuries old curse. Lo Pan has three henchmen known as The Three Storms, a trio of supernatural warriors that would be right at home in a Mortal Kombat video game. There's Thunder (Carter Wong), Rain (Peter Kwong) and the phenomenal Lightning (James Pax) who each control an elemental power. Burton and Wang enlist the help of an eccentric Chinese mystic, the squinty-eyed sorcerer Egg Shen (Victor Wong, Prince of Darkness) to help rescue Miao Yin from Lo Pan's underground labyrinth.  Along for the ride is a nosy and obnoxious reporter Gracie Law (Kim Catrall) who tags along providing a difficult love interest for Burton . the two have a fun adversarial chemistry as Gracie defends herself against Jack's clumsy come-ons.

Big Trouble is a special effects and martial arts extravaganza with some great effects work from Richard Edlund and the Boss Film Studios crew who worked on a ton of 80's classics  including Ghostbusters (1983), Poltergeist (1982), Fright Night (1985) and the Star Wars trilogy. For this one they created some creepy mystical creatures including a Chinese Wildman, a multi-eyed floating sentinel and a weird fish-lizard monster which we see for just a moment - blink and you'll miss it. A small complain about the effects would be I wanted more of 'em onscreen for longer! Particularly the wildman since the ending hints at a continuing story , where's the sequel John Carpenter?. 

The chop socky battles sequences are fantastic, a kinetic blend of martial arts styles and some sweet gravity-defying wire work - it's a trip. We have no shortage of flying fists of fury the clanging of weaponry and various implements of impalement -  fun action packed stuff. The film has a great pace that never lets up, moving forward at a quick pace that never leaves you time to question reality, logic or reasoning - which is good because all three are in short supply. 

The set from production design from John Lloyd is simply amazing, it was hard to believe the Chinatown sequences were not shot on location. Once our heroes descend into the labyrinthine underworld of Lo Pan it's particularly fantastic as the film takes a dark fantasy feel as they progress through the sewers into the palace like interiors and the underwater torture chamber right up to a bizarre neon-lit room, a visual stunner.  

The tone of the film is a bit off-kilter right from the start. Big Trouble doesn't take itself too serious and the cast are game to make fools of themselves , this definitely doesn't come off as the usual cliched adventure romp. They set out to make a zany actioner that subverts many of the usual stereotypes and he succeeds on all fronts in my opinion. Big Trouble in Little China is a strange and wonderful watch and one of the most quotable movies of all time, a cult-classic in the truest sense of the word and unique unto itself. 

The film bombed big time at the box office recouping just over half of it's budget in part due to poor promotion and ad campaign. The studio were unhappy with the finished product having wanted a more traditional Indian Jones type movie, but with a script co-penned by the writer/director of Buckaroo Banzai what did they expect?  The post-production hassles from the studio turned Carpenter off future studio productions for quite awhile and despite the initial poor reception Big Trouble has since gone on to develop quite a rabid fan base not unlike. What can you say, John Carpenter was a man ahead of his time. 

Blu-ray: Arrow Video's transfer of the John Carpenter cult-classic looks great with a nice natural layer of film grain with some decent fine detail, depth and clarity. Colors are bright and the image is modestly crisp all things considered. I threw on my 20th Century Fox Blu-ray and was hard-pressed to notice much of a difference except to note that the Arrow release is perhaps a tiny smidgen brighter.

Audio options include English language DTS-HD Master Audio 51 and Uncompressed PCM 2.0 with optional English SDH subtitles. It's a lively presentation with some modest audio depth, perhaps not the most dynamic surround experience one could hope for but there's some effective use of the surrounds. Mirroring the 20th Century Fox release we have the option of listening to the John Carpenter and Alan Howarth original score via DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Onto the special features we have all of the extras from the 20th Century Fox Blu-ray including deleted scenes, an extended ending, a vintage featurette, music video, the isolated score, a behind-the-scenes gallery, trailers and TV spots, Richard Edlund interview plus the fantastic audio commentary with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. When these two get together for an commentary is always a blast and this is one of my favorites. 

Arrow come through with new extras with over an hour of brand new Severin Films produced interviews with Director John Carpenter, star Kurt Russell, stuntman Jeff Imada, producer Larry Franco and cinematographer Dean Cundey.

Carpenter talks about being offered Big Trouble in Little China following the success of Starman after the box office failure of The Thing, loving W.D. Richter penned script and how  the project evolved from a Western into a contemporary setting. He speaks about the studio's disappointment with the film - they wanted something more akin to Indiana Jones - and the cult-status of the movie. 

Reversible Art Option 

Kurt Russell remembers working with Carpenter beginning with TV movie Elvis (1979) then onto Escape from New York and The Thing right up to Big Trouble, describing his character as a half-assed John Wayne and the film's poor performance at the cinema and cult-status. 

Dean Cundey who worked on many of the signature Carpenter films discusses the his b-movie roots, the origins of Halloween (1978)as a babysitter killer movie and his other collaborations with Carpenter plus the tone of the Big Trouble, the production design from John Lloyd and the joys of working with Kurt Russell. 

Producer Larry Franco was Russell's brother-in-law at the time and recounts Kurt bringing him into the Carpenter fold beginning with the Elvis TV movie and his other collaborations with Carpenter ending with Big Trouble. Interestingly he talks about a few properties that Carpenter nearly directed including the comedy Armed and Dangerous and Firestarter - the latter of which seems to have affected Carpenter quite a bit and further fueled his desire to work outside the studio system. .

Stuntman Jeff Imada goes into his martial arts background and perusing his acting/stuntman career in Hollywood. He speaks about his time on the set of Big Trouble and performing multiple roles, the mixed martial arts style of the film and the tech and wire-work utilized to perform the stunts. The stuntman fondly recalls working with Russell, James Hong and Dennis and how he started his career as a second unit director in Carpenter's They Live (1988).

Limited Edition SteelBook
The check disc sent for review from Arrow Video unfortunately did not include the cover art the booklet but the retail version of the release includes a reversible sleeve with new artwork from artists Jay Shaw and a booklet featuring new writing on the film by John Kenneth Muir, author of The Films of John Carpenter, a re-print of an article on the effects of the film from American Cinematographer, illustrated with archive stills and posters - it's a top notch release. There is also a sweet looking Limited Edition SteelBook™ available from Arrow Video with the same AV presentation and features.  

It's been a bang-up year for John Carpenter fans with a slew of definitive reissues on Blu-ray from Scream Factory and now from Arrow Video. Would love to see Arrow continue down this path with more Carpenter on Blu-ray along the lines of what they've done with the movies of Brian De Palma, Lucio Fulci, George A. Romero and Dario Argento.
Special Features:
- High Definition presentation from a digital transfer prepared by 20th Century Fox
- Optional 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and uncompressed Stereo 2.0 Audio
- Isolated 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Isolated Score
- Audio Commentary with director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell- Return to Little China – A brand new interview with John Carpenter (12:16)

- Being Jack Burton – A brand new interview with Kurt Russell (20:59)
- Carpenter and I – A brand new interview with cinematographer Dean Cundey (15:40)
- Producing Big Trouble – A new interview with producer Larry Franco (15:23)
- Staging Little Trouble – A new interview with stuntman Jeff Imada (12:30)
- Interview with visual effects producer Richard Edlund(13:27)
- Vintage Making-of featurette featuring cast and crew (7:28)
- Extended Ending (3:17)
- 8 Deleted Scenes
- Music Video (3:28)
- Gallery of behind-the-scenes images (4:23)
- 3 Original Trailers(2::47)
- 6 TV Spots (2:57)
- Reversible Sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw
- Booklet featuring new writing on the film by John Kenneth Muir, author of The Films of John Carpenter, a re-print of an article on the effects of the film from American Cinematographer, illustrated with archive stills and posters

Verdict: Big Trouble in Little China (186) is a cult-classic and one Hell of a fun watch, this bizarre comedy-fantasy actioner may not be the best film in the Carpenter canon but it's without a doubt the one I revisit the most. When I'm having a shit day there's a short-list of 80's comedies I can pop in to cheer me up and this at the top. On a technical AV level this edition mirrors the 20th Century Fox release but Arrow Video go the extra mile and amp it up with over an hour of brand-new interviews on-top of carrying over the extras from the region A release. If you're a serious fan of the film this is an essential item. 4 Outta 5