Thursday, August 31, 2017

THE CREEP BEHIND THE CAMERA (2014) (Synapse Blu-ray Review)


Label: Synapse Films: 
Release Date: September 12th, 2017
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 110 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Pete Schuermann
Cast: Josh Phillips, Jodi Lynn Thomas, Bill LeVasseur

Pete Schuermann's The Creep Behind the Camera (2014) is a docudrama about the making of the low-budget slice of drive-in schlock The Creeping Terror (1964), a really awful movie about a teen-eating pile of carpets, directed by Vic Savage (aka A.J. Nelson), played in the movie by Josh Phillips. Savage is a straight-up scumbag huckster who conned a few men into funding and working on what he called "the biggest best monster movie ever", but what has actually come to be regarded as one of the most inept sci-fi movies ever assembled, this is the story of how it all happened. 

Originally director Pete Schuermann had planned for a more traditional doc styled film, he interviewed some cast and crew but began to realize that there was no behind-the-scenes footage to go along with the talking heads, and what he was finding out was so strange and deranged he switched gears and decided for a docu-drama approach. The story is told through re-enactments of the shockingly true events of this bad movie masterpiece-of-shit, with interviews from Savage's real life wife  Lois Wideman, played in the movie by Jodi Lynn Thomas (TV's Preacher), actor/producer William Thourly (played by Bill LaVasseur), Oscar winning special effects man Richard Edlund (Star Wars), who created the title credit sequence, screenwriter Allan Silliphant (director of the 3D porn movie The Stewardesses), and actor Byrd Holland, as well as talking head commentary from Ain't It Cool News' Harry Knowles and brothers Harry and Michael Medved of the Golden Turkey Awards, all chiming in with love/hate for this bad b-movie, condemning the man behind the camera, the titular creep. 

Josh Phillips is utterly fantastic as the depraved and deranged director, a man with no morals, a wife beater and drug abuser who dabbled in kiddie porn and statutory rape among other unsavory adventures. However, the real-life Savage and Phillips playing him muster some skin-crawling charm when called upon, this guy conned seemingly sensible people to fund and help create his movie, managing to get each of the actors to pay out of their own pocket to appear in his alien-monster movie. The guy was absolutely the worst sort of person, and the real-life Thourly at one point caps off the movie with a brief bit on how Hollywood attracts all the wrong people, and Savage was truly the wrong sort of creep. 

The movie has a weird tone, part documentary and part seedy re-enactment, it's going for comical satire, but WAY dark, this one plumbs the depths of what a scumbag this guy was, regularly cheating on and beating his long suffering wife, filming kiddie porn while his kids play outside, drugging his actors, and stalking Hollywood elite like Lucille Ball, he was a seriously fucked-up guy. Add to that little nuggets like the fact that the movie was largely filmed at Spahn Ranch with the help of cult-leader Charles Manson!

The movie can feel off-kilter at times because of the splicing of the interviews into the re-enactment, but I didn't find it too jarring. I also liked that there's some animation showing what screenwriter Allan Silliphant really had in mind with the original script, a story that was to be shot in lovely Lake Tahoe, but instead was shot around a mud puddle, and you can hear his disappointment every time he brings it up - which is often.

The cast of the docudrama stuff is uniformly very good, Philips as the maniacal and reprehensible Vic Savage, has a twisted Bill Paxton quality about him, like a drugged up version of Chet from Weird science crossed with Johnny Knoxville.  Jody Lynn Thomas as his long suffering wife is ever less than sympathetic, it was great to see her older self in the interviews, just to know there was life after Vic Savage, her last encounter with him being nearly raped by his syphilis-riddled dick, as shown in the film.     

I've often thought while watching bad movies, usually on one of those 50-pack Mill Creek budget collections, that the making of such awful movies must be, more often than not, more intriguing than the movies that ended up at the drive-in, and this slice of real-life movie making proved me right, this is right up there with Tim Burton's Ed Wood, only way darker and a lot less fun. Ed Wood was a likable misfit, as least as portrayed in Burton's movie, but Savage is more akin to a serial rapist, a real bad guy, but it makes for an enthralling and skin crawling movie, made all the worse because it really happened,but with a little bit of cinematic artistic allowance. 

Audio/Video: Pete Schuermann's The Creep Behind the Camera (2014) arrives on Blu-ray from Synapse Films, presented in 1.78:1 1080p HD widescreen and looks solid as you would expect from a recent digital production shot on RED cameras,  everything is vibrant and razor sharp. Audio on the disc comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, everything in nicely balanced and spread out, the jazzy score from John Schuermann sounds wonderful, too. Optional English subtitles are included. 

Onto the extra we get more than a few, we get a ton! For starters we get a bonus feature - the actual Creeping Terror! Advertised as a new 2K scan of original vault elements, I am assuming a decent looking theatrical print was used, and it is the best we've seen this space-turd look on home video ever, which is awesome. This is the cleanest and best looking version I've ever watched, it still has plenty of blemished but the contrast looks good, and we get a lossless DTS-HD MA Mono audio track with optional subtitles!  

Then we have a commentary for the the docu-drama from Director Pete Schuermann, Producer Nancy Theken and Stars Josh Phillips and Jodi Lynn Thomas, which I haven't gotten around to yet - after watching all the video extras I felt rather steeped in the film already. There's a cool making of featurette and even a how-to-make your carpet monster feature which surely puts more care into the re-creation of the pile-of-carpets creature than the actual monster we see in the movie, of that I have no doubt.

Director Pete Schuermann shows up in two more brief extras, one detailing the horror homages that can be found in the movie, including a nod to The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and another that goes into the details of filming Savage's death scene and burial. Actor Byrd Holland and writer Allan Silliphant have a brief chat together, Holland asks Silliphant that if his better known writer brother had actually seen The Creeping Terror would he have disowned him?

We also get 12-min of deleted scenes, an alternate ending and a Screamfest Black Carpet Q/A with Frank Conniff, in which the director discusses some alleged kiddie porn aspects of Vic Savage's career, plus theatrical for the docu-drama and a promotional trailer for The Creeping Terror! 

Blu-ray Special Features: 
- All-New 2K Scan of the Original Horror Classic, The Creeping Terror (Blu-ray Exclusive)(Full Frame 1.33:1) HD 
- Audio Commentary with Director Pete Schuermann, Producer Nancy Theken and Stars Josh Phillips and Jodi Lynn Thomas
- The Making of The Creep Behind the Camera (26 min) HD 
- How to Build a Carpet Monster (28 min) HD 
- Breaking Down Art’s Death Scene (7 min) HD 
- Monster Movie Homages ( 1 min) HD 
- “One Mick to Another” with Byrd Holland and Allan Silliphant (5 min) HD 
- Deleted Scenes (12 min) HD 
- Alternate Ending (2 min) HD 
- Screamfest Black Carpet Q/A with Frank Conniff (9 min) HD 
- The Creep Behind the Camera – Original Theatrical Trailer (3 min) HD 
- The Creeping Terror – Screamfest Promotional Trailer (4 min) HD 
- Newly Translated Removable SDH English Subtitles

If you love bad movies, if you love good movies about bad movies, then you need The Creep Behind the Camera in your life, this is a weird and wildly dark docu-drama about a rather nasty man who made a rather shabby sci-fi drive-in flick. It has since has gone onto it's own infamous notoriety as one of the worst movies of all-time, thanks in large part to a '93 episode of MST3K, joining the ranks of Troll 2, Manos: The Hands of Fate, Plan 9 from Outer Space and any of Michael Bay's brain-dead Transformers movies. As a nifty bonus you get the absolute best presentation of The Creeping Terror to date on home video!    

MY BLUE HEAVEN (1990) (Warner Archive Blu-ray Review)


Label: Warner Archive 
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 95 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Herbert Ross
Cast: Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Joan Cusack, William Hickey, 

This 90's studio comedy came out the same year as Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990) and is sort of a witty sequel to it in way, the story is also inspired by the true turncoat mobster story of mobster Henry Hill, we have Steve Martin (The Man With Two Brains) as Vincent Antonelli, a mobster who turns state's evidence and is entered into the witness protection program in a sleepy and very sunny suburban California town. Rick Moranis plays the straight-man to Martin's mobster, a straight-laced and over-serious FBI agent named Agent Barney Coopersmith who has been assigned as his handler. 

Arriving in the suburbs Vinnie's wife Linda (Barbara Rush, Parents) goes into immediate culture-shock and leaves Vinnie pretty much right away. It also happens that Agent Coppersmith's wife has just left him, too, so that have some common ground, but wiseguy Vinnie is gonna make life hard for Coopersmith, beginning my stealing a car from the supermarket and some credit card fraud which makes Vinnie public enemy number one for the local District Attorney, Hannah Stubbs, played by Joan Cusack (Grosse Point Blank) who gets a small but enjoyable role here, becoming a sort of love interest for Moranis's character and a foil for Martin, there's also some fun bits with her ex-husband(Daniel Stern, C.H.U.D.) who doesn't have proper boundaries.

The movie is very breezy and fun, it doesn't have the non-sequitur humor I so love with Martin's turns in The Man With Two Brains and The Jerk, it's a more straight forward studio comedy and that no mark against it, but it doesn't really endear it to me in a special way. The best bits have Martin as a gangster fish-out-out of water, a criminal tiger who finds it hard to change his stripes, going as far to even starts his own criminal empire with a group of aging mobsters also in the witness protection program, including a nice turn from William Hickey (National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) as mobster turned pet store owner Billy Sparrow.  

Audio/Video: My Blue Heaven (1990) arrives on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive with a brand new 2017 2K scan with some clean-up and restoration, the results re quite nice, framed in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p HD. This is a fairly bright and well-let movie, colors are vibrant and the image is nicely detailed and crisp with some good depth and clarity. The blue skies and suburban setting look great, you get to see the nook and crannies of the textures in Vinnie's sharp-looking wiseguy suits. If I am not mistaken his is the first time that the movie has been released on home video in the proper widescreen aspect ratio, all previous DVD versions I have owned have been full frame 1.33:1 - so just having it in the proper widescreen aspect ratio is a big win for fans of the movie.

Audio on the disc comes by way of an English language DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo track  that is crisp and clean with good separation and stereo panning, fidelity is strong and the dialogue and score are well-mixed. The score from Ira Newborn (Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) sounds great as do various soundtrack songs from Fat's Domino, the Beach Boys and Tony Bennett. Optional English subtitles are provided. The only extras on the disc is a trailer for the film, advertised as remastered, but certainly not cleaned-up.  

Special Features: 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (Remastered in HD)

My Blue Heaven (1990) is pretty low on my list of Steve Martin comedies, I prefer his earlier and zanier stuff, but it's hard to deny the chemistry between straight man Rick Moranis and Martin's played-for-laughs Italian mobster, it's a light 90s comedy that goes down easy, it certainly has a lot of charm. The new Blu-ray from WAC looks and sounds wonderful and I thank them for rescuing this one from full frame movie jail with a spiffy new widescreen transfer. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977) (Olive Films DVD Review)


Label: Olive Films

Region Code: 1 NTSC
Rating: PG
Duration: 99 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono it Optional English Subtitles 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Don Taylor 
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Michael York, Nigel Davenport, Barbara Carrera, Richard Basehart, Nick Cravat, The Great John L., Bob Ozman, Fumio Demura, Gary Baxley, John Gillespie, David S. Cass Sr.

I very distinctly remember sitting on the floor watching this on TV when I was a kid in the late-70's, I was enthralled by the mad-scientist on an island creating human-animal hybrids - these animal men were horrifying to me, the idea of an animal being transformed into a man-animal hybrid horrified me for some reason, it seemed unnatural, and the movie gave me nightmares for days afterwards. Now, it's been a few good years since I last revisited this incarnation of the classic H.G. Wells story, so let's jump right in and see if nostalgia perseveres today, or is it all youthful movie lust that has faded with time

The movie opens with a man named Andrew Braddock (Michael York, Logan's Run), a ship engineer stranded on a lifeboat after the ship sank. he's on the lifeboat with two other survivors, one of which dies on the boat and is rolled off into the water by the two other men. Dehydrated and on the verge of death the men happen upon an uncharted island somewhere in the Pacific. Braddock is the only one in any shape to adventure inland and he does so, unfortunately his shipmate is seemingly hauled away by strange creatures unseen and killed. Braddock is later found by Montgomery (Nigel Davenport, Death of a Snowman) who takes him back to a compound run by Dr. Moreau (silver screen legend Burt Lancaster, The Swimmer). Braddock is nursed back to health and begins speaking with Moreau who informs him that he has lived on the island for 11-years, he's been performing bizarre experiments which he does not go too deeply into with Braddock, but of course he begins to suspect is short order that something oddball is happening on the island.

While staying on the island Braddock doesn't get a lot of answers from Moreau's right hand man Montgomery, he always refers Braddock to speak to Moreau, so his suspicions are raised. Braddock and a gorgeous servant girl, Maria (Barbara Carrera, Never Say Never Again), the only woman on the island, form a relationship and soon sparks begin to fly between the two, but when Braddock discovers that Moreau is performing advanced evolutionary experiments using his own 'genetic serum', he decides he needs to get off the island, and he's going to take Maria with him. 

As a kid what struck me about the movie were the animal-men who lived in a cave on the island, wild creatures given human form through Moreau's experimentation, they creeped me out. They walked on two legs, had human features but were shaped by their animal origins, thus we have characters with names like Boarman, Bearman, Tigerman and a priest-type character known as The Sayer of the Law, played by Richard Basehart (TV's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea), who espouses worship of Dr. Moreau as some sort of God to the animal men, stuff like "His is the hand that makes. His is the hand that hurts. His is the hand that heals. His is the House of Pain. His is the House of Pain. His is the House of Pain. He who breaks the law shall be punished back to the House of Pain.". The House of Pain being the name for Moreau's laboratory where the animal-men were created, a place feared by the animal men, the place where their God inflicts pain and punishment. 

Watching it now I can appreciate the Planet of the Apes styled make-up effects employed to create the manimals, but they are a bit dated, very rubber-faced. I incorrectly remembered some tasty transformation scenes in this movie, but that never happens, we don't get any An American Werewolf in London or Holwingstyled transformation scenes, these were imaginations created by my young mind I guess, but we do get a very minor make-up transformation with the character of Braddock, who when it is discovered he means to escape the island Moreau injects with his serum, and he begins to go feral.

Having just recently watched the pre-code era adaptation Island of Lost Souls (1932) and the more current, and wildly unhinged, '96 adaptation with Brando and Kilmer, this one comes across very tame and sedate, what's missing is the human-animal breeding weirdness of the '32 version, and the over-the-top awfulness/awesomeness of the '96 version, this one glosses over the science part of it all to a large degree, it's only hinted at in any way, we have the serum with a brief explanation but that's about it. Director Don Taylor (Damien: Omen II) instead chose to focus in the man/animal action, and we do get some fun action cinema we have the Moreau's caged animals escaping and attacking the animal men, so there's a flurry of furry action happening involving pumas, tigers, leopards and lions to the backdrop of the entire compound going up in flames, some of these animal stunts are incredible, and also look quite endangering to both the stuntmen and the animals. The final 20-minutes are action-packed and fun, while I think it lacks the depth the movie has cool 70s creature feature vibe and strong for their time special effects work. 

Audio/Video: The Island of Dr. Moreau arrives on DVD from Olive Films framed in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) looking solid, a definite step-up from the now ancient 2001 DVD that was part of MGM's Midnite Movies series. Not sure what the source for Olive's standard definition release is but it's a marked improvement over the Midnite release, though probably not as spiffy as Kino Lorber's recent Blu-ray release, but apparently Kino got the Blu-ray rights and Olive snatched up the DVD rights this time around. Colors and skin tones are warmer, details are more crisp and defined, though the image is still soft in certain scenes, but it is a vast improvement over the 2001 DVD as evidenced by the screenshots below comparing the two. I am seeing some differences in the framing with the Olive at times losing image on the perimeters but also seeing that reversed where the Olive looks to have more edge information, too. The MGM looks vertically stretched to my eyes as well.

BOTTOM: MGM (2001) 

Audio on the disc is English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono and it's well-balanced and clean, the brassy Laurence Rosenthal score comes through a little strong at times but I didn't mind, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Extras on the disc include a widescreen trailer for the film, plus a brand new commentary by paranormal author Jeff Belanger and horror-host Dr. Dreck, it's pretty much a fan-commentary and not one I would sit through again of my own free will, when it comes to commentaries I want more authoritative figures who are deeply immersed in the topic and film at hand, and these guys are just fans watching the film, one admitting he'd never watched the film until asked to do the commentary! There's also an 8-page booklet with an essay by Associate Professor of Humanities Emeritus at the University of Michigan, which only touches on wells novella not this or any adaptation of the movie, which again was a disappointment. 

Special Features: 

- New Audio Commentary with paranormal author Jeff Belanger and horror-host Dr. Dreck
- Eight-page booklet with “The Island of Doctor Moreau as Theological Grotesque” essay by Gorman Beauchamp
- Trailer (2 min) 16x9

I have to say that The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977) didn't live up to my childhood viewing, but to be fair though it is very rare that any movie does, that said I put this is my least favorite of the adaptations, coming in third after the crazy '96 version, with Island of Lost Souls still winning the day with it's subversive pre-code weirdness. As it is this is a fun 70s entry with some good visuals, some animal on man action and an attractive island setting, and would make a fun Saturday watch with the kids, but it's lost some of it's charm for me through the years as I've aged and discovered the amazing '32 version, but this is still a fun curiosity from the 70s. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

HELL UP IN HARLEM (1973) (Olive Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Olive Films
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 95 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Larry Cohen 
Cast: Bobby Ramsen, D’urville Martin, Fred Williamson, Gerald Gordon, Gloria Hendry, Julius W. Harris, Margaret Avery, Tony King

Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson, 1990: The Bronx Warriors), the "Godfather of Harlem," returns in this amped-up sequel to Black Caesar (1973), coming out just a scant 10 months after the first film was a huge hit for distributor AIP. Director Larry Cohen (Q The Winged Serpent) ramps up the violence and the lunacy in this sequel right from the get-go, we have a crooked District Attorney DiAngelo (Gerald Gordon, Ants!) gunning to take-down Gibbs because he's is in possession of a ledger full of dirty secrets. Gibbs is gunned-down in broad daylight, he escapes but is bleeding out fast, desperately he calls his estranged father Papa Gibbs (Julius Harris, Live And Let Die) who comes to the rescue along with members of Gibbs gang who take him to a nearby hospital and hold the docs there hostage while they save his life, also holding off the NYPD in a tense stand-off, the only reason they don't blow a hole in the whole gang is that Gibbs is in possession of the ledger and the crooked D.A. doesn't want to be exposed for the scumbag that he is.

After surviving Gibbs discovers that his kid's mother Helen (Gloria Hendry, Diamonds Are Forever) was the one who set him up, he takes the kid away from her, and she resorts to hooking on the streets, until she is later murdered, which plays into the final stretch of the film. Gibbs and his father rule the streets, reigning supreme in other criminal enterprises while at the same time working hard to eradicate drugs from the streets of Harlem. 

The assault on the drug-peddlers are pretty awesome in a kitschy sort of way, there's a clumsily choreographed kung-fu fight with some Asians and an amphibious frog-men assault on a beach front home with a rather awesome gunfight ensuing after they've beached - it's good stuff, it might not all be executed to the best-degree but it is certainly entertaining, especially when Gibbs and the gang force some super-white dudes to eat soul-food at gunpoint!  

Eventually Gibbs and his father have a falling out when his enforcer Zach (Tony King, Cannibal Apocalypse) inform Gibbs that it was his father who had his former girlfriend Helen murdered. In disgust Gibbs hands his East Coast empire over to his father, who in turn takes out his enemies with brute-force, with Gibbs moving to L.A. with his new gal pal Sister Jennifer (Margaret Avery, TV's Being Mary Jane). However, when Papa Gibbs is betrayed and murdered back in New York by Zach Tommy Gibbs returns to the East Coast to dole out some dynamite revenge, but his murder spree puts his son Jason's life on the line, and we get a sweet murder-montage of Gibbs taking out associates of Zach and DiAngelo, including a sniper kill on a busy street and a particularly fun kill with Gibbs plunging the business end of a beach umbrella into the chest of a sunbather on the beach with a fun animated bloodletting that has to be seen to be believed, an image that deserves to only be seen in a drive-in, it's crazy!  

Fred Williamson offers loads of the effortless charm we love him for, a black criminal with a heart, but ruthless and a skilled killer, his scenes are always a lot of fun, whether he's kicking ass or just looking cool as Hell. Not all the acting is great though, at times both Hendry and Harris are straight up awful, but I love the fist fight with Big Papa and Zach, a street brawl to rule them all! There's also a wild coast to coast chase involving Gibbs and Zach that culminated on a luggage conveyor belt at the airport, total kick-ass awesomeness. Also keep an eye-out for D'Urville Martin (Dolemite, Sheba Baby)as a pimp turned pulpit-pounder, Reverend Rufus! 

Audio/Video: Hell Up In Harlem (1973) arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Film presented in 1.85:1 widescreen in 1080p HD, the source looks solid, some white speckling here and again but nothing stands out in regard to print damage, the colors are nice and bright, depth and clarity are improved from the 2001 MGM Soul Cinema series DVD, but there's not a lot of wow-factor here either, but still a solid filmic transfer with the natural grain intact without a lot of edge sharpening or digital scrubbing. Black levels can be weak at times, more grayish, and the night scenes also show some additional graininess to them, but overall a solid presentation.  

The lone audio option is an English language DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track, it is nicely clean and crisp, the soundtrack featuring Edwin Starr, singer of the Vietnam War protest song "War" (1970), sounds great, though I must admit I found a few of these songs a bit on the corny side, not one of my favorite blaxploitation soundtracks, but I dig the Big Papa theme. Optional English subtitles are included. 

Onto the extras we get a 2-min HD trailer for the film, and an audio commentary, not the same one from the 2001 MGM DVD either, this is a new commentary with director Larry Cohen, moderated by Steve Mitchell, director of the upcoming documentary King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen. I have always found Cohen's commentaries to me solid, every damn one of them, a spark plug who tells it like it was and is, and it's no different here! My favorite take away was Cohen telling the story of what happened to James Brown's original score for the film and why it was not used, which is too bad, this is Big Payback era James Brown!  

Special Features: 
- NEW audio commentary with director Larry Cohen, moderated by Steve Mitchell, director of the upcoming documentary King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen.
- Trailer (2 min) HD 

Hell Up In Harlem (1973) is not the most stylish blaxploitation movie you will ever see, it can be a bit corny at times with the gangster posturing and near-impossible ridiculousness, but Larry Cohen knows how to make an damn entertaining and kinetic action film, obviously stealing shots on the streets of NYC, which give the film a gritty realism and some added punch, this was a blast and a recommend for fans of action-packed, and slightly ridiculous, 70s cinema.  

Friday, August 25, 2017

PHENOMENA (1985) (Synapse 2-Disc Blu-ray Review)

Synapse 2-Disc Blu-ray Edition

Label: Synapse Films
Release Date: September 12th, 2017
Duration: 110 Minutes (International Version), 116 Minutes (Integral Version), 83 Minutes (Creepers Version)
Rating: R / Unrated (2 Versions) 
Audio: English, Italian DTS-HD MA English/Italian 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasence, Daria Nicolodi, Patrick Bauchau

Synopsis: The young Jennifer Corvino (played by Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Connelly (Labyrinth) in one of her first film roles) is sent to a private Swiss academy for girls where a vicious killer is on the loose, brutally murdering students. Jennifer is a “gifted” girl with the strange ability to communicate with insects, and Dr. McGregor (Donald Pleasence, John Carpenter’s Halloween series, Escape from New York) enlists her to help locate the killer. Jennifer finds herself in a bizarre murder plot with maggots, mutants, and razor-wielding chimpanzee mayhem! Can she uncover the killer’s identity before becoming a victim herself? Daria Nicolodi (Tenebrae) and Fiore Argento (Demons) also star in this strange, unique and gory film from Italy’s Master of Horror, Dario Argento. Phenomena also features fantastic soundtrack music from progressive-rock favorite Goblin, British Heavy Metal masters Motörhead & Iron Maiden, Andi Sex Gang, Bill Wyman and Simon Boswell!

Phenomena (1985) is the third of what has become known as Dario Argento's animals trilogy; a trio of films beginning with his first film, the stone-cold giallo classic The Bird with the Crystal Plumage(1970), Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) and ending with Phenomena (1985). The film was released following Tenebre (1982), one of my favorite Argento films, a stylish Giallo classic that brought new life to the stylish Italian whodunit. Phenomena ia a bit of a hybrid of a giallo and a more fantastical supernatural thriller, and was originally released here in the U.S. in a severely cut version called Creepers. The movie is a weird, dark fairy tale that recalls many elements of Argento's supernatural thriller Suspiria (1977), particularly a young girl who is sent abroad to a school who experiences strange happenings n and around the school. The movie opens as  tourist Vera Grandt (Fiore Argento, Demons) misses a tour bus in the Swiss countryside, she's now stranded and ventures to a nearby house in search of some assistance. She knocks but when no one answers she enters the unlocked house, stirring around inside she arouses the interest of something fiendish that's been chained to the wall inside. Whatever it is it pulls the chains from the wall and attacks the young woman with a pair of scissors, she escapes the initial attack and runs madly through the forest to a nearby gorge where she is cornered and decapitated in a rather visually stunning manner, her head shattering a pane of glass in slow-motion, we do not see the decapitation but her head falls to the waterfall below, we see her body being dragged by an unseen culprit in the water's reflection.

Months later, Jennifer (Connelly), the daughter of a famous American actor arrives at a nearby Swiss boarding school, the Richard Wagner Academy for Girls, and already we're getting some definite shades of Suspiria. There she meets Frau Brucker (Daria Nicolodi, Deep Red), the stern headmistress (Dalilia Do Lazzaro, Flesh For Frankenstein) and her new roommate Sophie (Federica Mastroianni), more shades of Suspiria. We discover that Jennifer has a few odd quirks about her, she regularly sleepwalks and is able to seemingly telekinetically communicate with the insects around, she's a real lord of the flies type girl. On her first night at the academy she sleepwalks, envisioning a long white corridor with many doors, these are great surreal Argento visuals, and while sleepwalking witnesses the murder of a girl from school, but has no recollection of it. During yet another nocturnal stroll she wanders off school grounds and encounters local entomologist Dr. John McGregor (Donald Pleasance, Raw Meat) with a snazzy Scottish accent. McGregor is wheelchair bound and relies on his care-giving pet Chimpanzee named Inga to assist him. Inga is very helpful and super protective of the McGregor, later in the movie wields a straight razor on a revenge mission when her master is hurt, and it only gets weirder. McGregor and Jennifer form a bond over their shared love the insects and he warns her that a demented psychopath on the loose in the area killing young girls, something they didn't mention at the school. 

Back at school Jennifer is not well-liked by the other girls, when her creepy affinity for insects is revealed when she summons a swarm of flies upon the school in a fit of anger, as you can imagine this does not help her image. The headmistress is intent on having her committed to a psychiatric after the event but when the men in white arrive Jennifer has fled to McGregor's who irresponsibly sends her in search of the killer armed only with a sarcophagus fly to aid in the detection of cadavers. The search for the killer obviously puts her in imminent danger which leads to a startling revelation and bizarre final confrontation on a boat with a fiendish freak and it's deranged mother.

There's not an extraordinary amount of death and gore here but what there we do get is significantly gruesome, we have some slasher-styles kills, including a great kill with a blade emerging from the victim's mouth, and some choice moments of rotting flesh to give you the creeps. The decomposition special effects by Sergio Stivaletti (Demons 2) are stomach churningly effective while the pre-digital optical effects work by Luigi Cozzi (Contamination) lends a bizarre atmosphere to the proceedings, with swarming insects filling the screen. Claudio Simonetti of Goblin performs the main title theme but the signature Goblin music is not as prevalent throughout the film as in previous Argento film scores and instead we get cuts from Motorhead and a tasty Iron Maiden track "Flash of the Blade". The tastiest track is the composition "The Valley" by Bill Wyman & Terry Taylor, super eerie, has a very Blade Runner sort of vibe about it. This was the first time that Argento really used soundtrack rock music, and it's a bit jarring at times, but loved the tunes, something he would do again with Demons.

The film is a weird hybrid, it has a different feel than either his Giallo entries or the supernatural stuff, it's a somewhat jarring mash-up of the two, but I've grown to love it more and more through the years with each subsequent watch, it gets better with age. Connolly is wonderfully otherworldly and the movie has some serious wind-swept atmosphere and visuals that Argento fans can dig into. 

Audio/Video: Dario Argento’s Phenomena (1985) arrives on 2-disc Blu-ray from US distributor Synapse Films containing three different cuts, all framed in 1080p HD widescreen (1.66:1). Disc one contains both the 116 minute integral version and the considerably shorter 83 minute U.S. Creepers cut. The 116 minute cut comes by way of an older HD master which was also used by Arrow Video for their first Blu-ray of the film, not the new 4K restoration they've issued recently. This is known to have DNR issues with some waxiness and lack of fine detail in certain scenes, Synapse were denied a pass to create their own new HD master and had to go with the existing master, but what they did do was remix the hybrid English/Italian audio, we get both a English DTS-HD MA 2.0 and an Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 with three optional English subtitles choices, including one for just the foreign language segments of the hybrid version, complete English subtitles for the entire feature, and complete English subtitles for the Italian version of the film. I like the English audio but will have to give the edge to the Italian track which seems more robust and full. Disc one also contains the Creeper cut of the film, coming in at 83 minutes long, framed in the same 1.66:1 widescreen, with an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track with optional English subtitles. 

Onto disc two we have the international cut of the film clocking at 110 minutes, this is the original version of the film, derived from a different source. I've heard, but not seen it from Synapse, that the 110-min international version is an HD master from French distributor Wild Side Cinema, which has never before been available in HD, and it's an improvement - this is the best looking cut on the set.  It looks fantastic, it has not been degrained, there's no waxiness, fine detail are strong, the image is vibrant and more technically robust. Audio options include both English DTS-HD MA 2.0 and a English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with alternate music cues, the alternate track seems a bit anemic, dialogue takes focus, while effects and music cues drop off a little bit, the near constant winds heard throughout the movie are but a whisper here, it affects the viewing. The main DTS-HD MA 2.0 track is strong and well-balanced, music cues and effects are strong, mixed well with dialogue, it sounds great. 

Onto the extras for disc two we begin with a very good commentary from Dario Argento scholar and author, Derek Botelho and film historian, journalist and radio/television commentator, David Del Valle. Del Valle always has a warm and inviting persona, lots of info about the cast and crew, both speak a bit about how Dario has subjected the women in his personal life to various onscreen tortures/rapes in his films and touch on a myriad of topics, it's not one of my favorite commentary tracks though. I much prefer hearing Alan Jones and Kim Newman wax nostalgic about Argento - these guys know their stuff and I find them more compelling argento storytellers. What we get is not bad, just a bit dry for my tastes. Also included is the feature length '85 doc Dario Argento's World of Horrors, directed by Michele Soavi, who would go onto direct a few classic Italian chillers himself, including Stage Fright (1987), The Church (1989)and  Dellamorte Dellamore (1994) aka Cemetery man. It's a great doc stuffed with behind-the-scenes footage of making various films and some good interviews with Argento himself. 

Finishing up the extras we have the theatrical trailer for Phenomena and Creepers, plus a selection of radio spots for Creepers. This 2-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in a standard blue Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, featuring the traditional Phenomena artwork and the U.S. Creepers artwork, while I think Creepers is an inferior and butchered version of the movie I do love that artwork! Each Blu-ray discs features scenes from the film of Jennifer Connelly on them, same as the 3-disc Limited Edition Steelbook.  What this doesn't have that the 3-disc limited edition Steelbook has is the 20-page booklet with notes on Synapse Films’ extensive restoration, plus liner notes on the film by authors Michael Gingold and Gary Hertz, nor the third disc, the remastered CD soundtrack. The 3-disc Limited Collector’s Edition Steelbook® from Synapse Films is still available HERE as of this review, and it's a damn gorgeous release, but this 2-disc release has all the extras minus the CD soundtrack and the cool packaging. 

Special Features: 
DISC 1 (Blu-ray)
Phenomena (116 Minute Integral version)
This English/Italian hybrid cut of Phenomena  contains an additional six minutes of material not seen in the 110 minute version. Completely remixed by Synapse Films to seamlessly integrate the additional Italian audio segments into the feature, and remastered in high-definition, this version of Phenomena is now available for the first time ever in North America!
- Creepers (83 minute U.S. release version) Synapse Films is proud to present the U.S. version of Creepers, now available for the First time ever, remastered in high-definition (1080p 1.66:1 Presentation). Includes optional English subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
- Newly remixed English/Italian 2.0 stereo mix for the 116 minute version of Phenomena
- Original Italian 2.0 stereo mix
- Multiple optional subtitle selections, including one for just the foreign language segments of the hybrid version, complete English subtitles for the entire feature, and complete English subtitles for the Italian version of the film.

DISC 2 (Blu-ray)
- Phenomena (110 minute version)
This international version of Phenomena was released in 1985 and contains almost 30 minutes of additional footage not seen in the Creepers U.S. version. Completely remastered in high-definition and released, for the first time ever, on Blu-ray!
- Audio Commentary Track on Phenomena from Argento scholar and author, Derek Botelho and film historian, journalist and radio/television commentator, David Del Valle
- Two completely different sound mix options, including the original English 2.0 stereo mix, along with a rare alternate mix containing different sound effects and music cues.
- Dario Argento's World of Horror (61 min)– Documentary A fascinating look at the early films of director Dario Argento, including Phenomena, Suspiria, demons, Dawn of the Dead, Inferno,  and many more! Containing candid interviews and awesome behind-the-scenes footage, DARIO ARGENTO’S WORLD OF HORROR gives us a look into the mind of Italy’s Master of Horror and is an essential viewing experience for all Argento fans.
- Interview with Andi Sex Gang (4 min) 
- Phenomena International Theatrical Trailer (3 min) HD 
- Creepers U.S. Theatrical Trailer (1 min) HD 
- Creepers Radio Spots (1 min) HD 
- Optional English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard for Hearing on Phenomena

Dario Argento's Phenomena (1985) gets better with each watch, an atmospheric horror hybrid that might prove a bit more difficult to settle into than his more beloved films to the casual horror fans, but if you're up to the initial challenge this is a stylish and haunting film with some strangely wonderful and horrific moments, and one that has aged quite nicely.