Saturday, June 30, 2018

THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING (1989) (MVD Rewind Blu-ray Review)


Label: MVD Rewind 

Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 88 Minuutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1, English PCM Stereo 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Jim Wynorski
Cast: Heather Locklear, Louis Jourdan, Dick Durock, Sarah Douglas

Synopsis: After her mother's mysterious death, Abigail Arcane (Heather Locklear) travels to the Florida swamps to confront her resurrected evil stepfather Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan). In an attempt to stave off the effects of aging, Dr. Arcane, assisted by Dr. Lana Zurrell (Sarah Douglas), combines genes from various swamp animals and human beings, creating an army of monsters known as Un-Men. When Abby arrives, Dr. Arcane is hell-bent on taking his own stepdaughter's life in the name of science... that is until she is rescued by SWAMP THING in this must-see sequel to the original cult classic and based on the award-winning DC Comics series!

Believe it or not The Return of Swamp Thing is produced by the same guys whom have produced all the Batman movies since Tim Burton's 1989 film, even stranger these guys chose b-movie schlockmeister Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall) to direct this DC comic property, a seven-years-later sequel to Wes Craven film. The film resurrects the evildoer Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan, Octopussy) from the frist film - which if you saw the first film is quite a feat - he's once again is in the swamps of Georgia doing evil stuff, this time creating a race of half-man, half-animal "un-men" - to what end I am not quite sure, it's all very Island of Lost Souls in a way. Arcane's stepdaughter Abigail(Heather Locklear, TV's Melrose Place) comes to visit her estranged stepfather in the swamps hoping to reconcile what happened to her late mother, she having mysteriously died recently at Arcane's plantation mansion. 

Arcane still has an army of mercenaries working for him, in addition to chief science types, we have the albuterol-sucking Dr. Rochelle (Ace Mask) and  Lana Zurrell (Sarah Douglas, Superman II) who oversee the creation of his genetically spliced un-men, offering an  array of mutant monstrosities to watch, we get animal/human hybrids of an elephant, a leech, a cockroach, what looks to be an armadillo, and a guy who looks like the cannibalistic madman from Anthropophagus (1980), I am almost certain that it's an homage to that character. When the film opens we catch-up with a group of DEA agents looking for illicit moonshine stills in the swamps, but the only thing they find, unfortunately for them, is leech-man, and this is where we're re-introduced to Swamp Thing (Dick Durock, Raw Deal) who shows up just in time to save at least one of the agents, and right away I was blown away by the design of the new suit, looking very close to the Bernie Wrightson design from the comics, a vast improvement over the man in glorified garbage bag from Wes Craven's first film, The suit this time out is nicely detail molded with roots and vegetation deeply detailed, the face is really what sells it though, the character can emote like we've never seen before - but despite this awesome design I couldn't help but snigger a bit when the character spoke - gone is the original voice of Dick Durock, and what we get in it's place is sort of funny sounding charmer of a voice, it's a strange choice. 

Not that strange choices are rare in this film, it's a stumper in a lot of ways, but I like the direction of it, Wynorski is going for a camped-up comic film with plenty of over-the-top strangeness and a bucket-load of cool - though only briefly seen - practical make-up appliances for the un-men, the only one to get any real screentime is the leech-man, who battles the green much hero twice, both time are awesomely fun and the action is on-point.

Some other fun cheesiness include the completely unnecessary inclusion of two adolescent kid characters hellbent on getting a picture of Swamp Thing to sell to the tabloids, they seem like they're rejects from Hal Roach's Our Gang (The Little Rascals) shorts, the freckled ginger kid particularly. While they're not necessary characters I never once regretted seeing them onscreen. Then we have two of the mercenaries working for Arcane by way of Miss Poinsettia (Monique Gabrielle, Penthouse Pet December '82) and Gunn (Joey Sagal, (Barb Wire) brother of the more famous Katie Sagal (Married With Children)) who two of the more significant of the baddies, they have a scene where they compare scars, you know, like in Jaws, with wounds ranging from wounds in Nicarauga to a bite mark from a Motley Crue concert), just silly stuff like that.

Back to the main characters I have to say I think Louis Jourdan is really awful here, he gives the strangest performance, a mix of odd expressions and what looks to be boredom, the guy doesn't seem to want to be there, and who can blame him, he probably loathed that this is where he was at in this point and time in his career, this being his second to last film appearance. To that point there's a humorous anecdote on the extras wherein Wynorsky points out that Jourdan refused to say a characters nickname as it referenced breasts, and the director retorted with "weren't you just in a film called Octopussy?", causing the aging star to storm off the set, so that could not have helped I guess. Then there's Heather Locklear, a blond cutey for sure but she is playing this for laughs with some quippy/pun-laden dialogie that seems like a different film altogether, but it made me laugh and groan in equal measure, such as her character being is a dyed-in-the-wool vegetarian and somehow this should make us believe she would fall in love with ol' swampy, gotta love it. Anyway, this subplot allows for a weird oral-sex joke and some hallucinogenic dream-sex, I shit you not. 

The Return of Swamp Thing is just a fun film, it's super-corny and comic book-y, but not in the Alan Moore sort of way, which I would love to see actually filmed, the Alan Moore run on Swamp Thing is epic and would make for a fucked-up and gorgeous film, maybe someday, but definitely not with the this sequel or the Wes Craven original. This sin;t one I've seen before so I didn't have any nostalgic love for it, so I was kinda surprised I loved it so much first time around. 

Audio/Video: The Return of Swam Things (1989) arrives on 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD from MVD Rewind with a new 2K transfer from unspecified elements. Whatever the source the grain is nicely managed, and the source is near flawless, there's no print damage I can see aside from some minor white speckling. Colors are nicely saturated and sharp looking without looking to bright and vivid, the greens of the swamp and the mucky hero really shine. Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 and a stereo LPCM track, there are no subtitle options. The stereo track is well-balanced and is my preferred viewing option but the surround track sounds great, especially during the opening credits scene with Creedence Clearwater Revivals "Born on the Bayou" blasting along, as I had never watched this before I was really surprised when that popped-up on the soundtrack! 

Onto the extras we get the original Jim Wynorski audio commentary from old Image DVD, plus a brand new commentary from Director Jim Wynorski, Composer Chuck Cirino and Editor Leslie Rosenthal, a great revisit that touches on the shooting locations, gimmicks used to the film, the score and production anecdotes about the cast and crew.  Exclusive to this release are about 40-min worth of new interviews with Director Jim Wynorski (17 min), Editor Leslie Rosenthal (9 min), Composer Chuck Cirino (7 min), and Lightyear Entertainment Executive Arnie Holland 5 mn) which are loose and fun. Additionally we have a series of TV spots, two littering PSA featuring Swamp Thing and the two kids, which notably features Dick Durock's real voice. There's also a 5-min promo real, 8-min of TV promotional clips, an HD trailer, an image gallery,   

The 2-disc release comes housed in a clear dual-tray Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, the two options are similar and I preferred the MVD Rewind framing of the a-side, the b-side is the same key art with a tan border and some small differences, like the annoying "Blu-ray + DVD" blue banner at the top, the b-side also noting that this is the  30th Anniversary Special Collector's Edition of the film. The discs themselves are simple white backgrounds with black logo-ed lettering. Also included is a one-sided mini-foldout poster of the MVD Rewind a-side artwork. This release also includes a limited edition slipcover with the usual MVD Rewind Collection patina of worn=packaging and rental store video stickers, it has some nice shelf appeal, and in spine-numbered - this being number five. 

Special Features: 

- Brand-New 2K High-Definition Transfer
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition (480p) DVD presentations of the main feature
- Original 2.0 and 5.1 Stereo Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- NEW Audio commentary from Director Jim Wynorski, Composer Chuck Cirino and Editor Leslie Rosenthal
- Original Audio commentary from Director Jim Wynorski
- NEW Interview with Director Jim Wynorski (17 min) HD 
- NEW Interview with Editor Leslie Rosenthal (9 min) HD 
- NEW Interview with Composer Chuck Cirino (7 min) HD 
- NEW Interview with Lightyear Entertainment Executive Arnie Holland 5 mn) HD 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (New HD Transfer from original 35mm materials) (1 min) 
- 6 Promotional TV Clips (8 min) SD
- 2 TV Spots (2 min) SD
- 2 Greenpeace Public Service Announcements (1 min) SD
- 1989 Promo Reel (5 min) SD 
- Photo Gallery (accompanied by Chuck Cirino's film's score) (2 min) HD 
- Collectible Mini-Poster
- MVD Rewind Trailers: Black Eagle (2 min) HD, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (2 min), Savannah Smiles (3 min), D.O.A: A Rite of Passage (4 min) 

The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) is a fun, trashy super-hero film, b-movie superman Jim Wynorski knows his cheese and this one is ripe with the best kind of cinema fromage, and that they nailed the design of the creature is pretty damn sweet. The film is a far cry from the Alan Moore run from the comics that I would love to see but when I think about it, I'll revisit this long before I revisit the over-serious original film, MVD Rewind knocked it out of the park with this one with a surpsingly nice A/V presentation and oodles of new extras and nice packaging. If you're a fan there's a lot here to love, and if you're not fan, well  I don't think we can be friends, I know it ain't good, it's awesome!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

MIND RIPPER (1995) (88 Films Blu-ray Review)

Label: 88 Films
Rating: Certification: 15 
Duration: 95 Minutes
Region Code:
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Joe Gayton 
Cast: Lance Henriksen, Giovanni Ribisi, Natasha Wagner, Claire Stansfield, John Diehl

The straight-to-video 90's horror entry Mind Ripper (195) began life as a Hills Have Eyes sequel set in space, co-written by Wes Craven's son Jonathan and directed by Joe Gayton (Faster) this would-be sequel is set deep in the blistering desert where a clandestine group of government funded scientist have found the body of a would-be suicide clinging to life after having apparently thrown himself from a cliff. They take his ravaged body back to their underground facility and inject with a super-soldier type serum which can regenerate human cells and imbues subjects with superhuman strength and agility, the serum was created by Jim Stockton (Lance Henriksen, Pumpkinhead) whom leaves the project shortly after due to differences in opinion about the unethical nature the project.

A few months after he's left the project it seems that research team leader Alex (John Diehl, National Lampoon's Vacation) has been dangerously upping the virus dosage to the human lab-rat, whom has remained comatose, transforming the formerly scrawny suicide, now dubbed "Thor" (Dan Blom, Tapeheads), into a sinewy muscle-laden beast of man. However, the experiment has turned south as Thor appears to be dying, forcing Alex to call in Stockton, to help save their deadly creation. 

Stockton reluctantly returns to the desert compound along with his surly teen son Scott (Giovanni Ribisi, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), daughter Wendy (Natasha Gregson Wagner, TV's The 4400) and her d-bag horndog boyfriend Mark (Adam Solomon), only to discover that some serious shit has gone down since he was earlier contacted by Alex, who has since been killed by a newly awakened Thor. Now surviving scientists Rob (Gregory Sporleder, The Crazies) and heroine Joanne (Claire Stansfield, TV's Xena: Warrior Princess), must join forces with the Stockton clan to fight for survival against the virus-enhanced Thor in the labyrinth of underground tunnels of the facility.

As a slice of straight-to-video 90's horror this action-y would-be sequel is not very good, but it does have some cheesy appeal, it maintains a teeny-tiny bit of the flavor of the original The Hills Have Eyes film, such as the family fighting against a deadly threat in the desert, and as where the original mutants were victims of unscrupulous nuclear testing this underground facility was former nuclear waste dump site. You can also see remnants of the original script, it beginning life as a Hills Have Eyes In Space sequel, it's been toned-down to a more Earthbound underground facility, and in place of mutants with a taste for human flesh we have a genetically engineered man, the virus inside him deteriorating his body, his eyes change, his ears and hair begin to fall off, not so much craving human flesh as much as an undefined desire for brains, with a dog-dick looking brain-sucking appendage that darts from his vagina/tongue. 

It's all very generic stuff with a few obvious homages to Alien throughout, the special effects done by Image Animation (Hellraiser) look pretty darned good considering this must had an anemic budget, but the gore isn't all that stupendous, but what we get is a bit gruesome, especially the doggy dick/vagina stuff. Lance Henriksen is decent as the dad trying to patch things up with his estranged kids, he's always good, even though he doesn't put a whole lot into this one, but he gets the job done. Future star Giovanni Ribissi (Gangsterland) shows up in an early role the same year as his appearance on the lightning kid on the X-Files, a typical angsty teen with daddy issues, he's annoying and I can't say it's one of those early career moves that makes you take notice of somebody clearly on their way to stardom, but at least he's not as annoying as the daughter and her horn dog boyfriend, so there's that. The least annoying of the non-Heriksen characters are the scientist played by Gregory Sporledeband Claire Stansfield, the latter of whom turns out to be a Ripley inspired heroine. The villain is sort of interesting, sort of sympathetic in a way in a "I never asked for this" sort of way, and a bit of a Terminator in that he's near impossible to kill, showing up mere moments after you think you're rid of him, particularly in the final stretch of the film when he hops from a truck to plane, it's silly but cheaply entertaining, nd it doesn't help that he looks like a long-haired surd dude prior to his balding/earless transformation. 

I didn't love this one, though I was appreciative I was finally able to give it a watch, I didn't know this one existed until just a few years ago, and even then I didn't know about it's origins as a pseudo The Hills Have Eyes sequel. If you're a Craven completest or a Hills Have Eyes aficionado you should give this one watch, just don't expect some lost gem, it's a bit of letdown in that respect.

Audio/Video: Mind Ripper (a.k.a. The Hills Have Eyes III) arrives on region-B locked Blu-ray from 88 Films in 1080p HD framed in 1.78:1 widescreen, and it look like a mid-90's straight-to-video sequel. Advertised as a transfer from the original negatives it looks decent, grain is present but never intrusive, but the cinematography seems very made-for-TV in its composition and framing, with a lot of unattractive hazy looking shots with poor lighting, some of it bathed it retina burning red lighting that softens the image and obscures detail. It's just not a great looking film, though this is no fault of the transfer itself, it looks like it's probably inherent to the source. 

Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with optional English subtitles, the stereo track is well-balanced and the dialogue is never hard to decipher, the synth score from J. Peter Robinson (Wes Craven's New Nightmare) is pretty bland stuff, but sound as good as can with the lossless presentation. 

The main extra here is a brand new interview with co-screenwriter (and son of Wes Craven) Jonathan Craven who speaks about origins of the script as a third Hills Have Eyes sequel set in space, also speaking about the directors they looked at for the film, including a young Alexander Payne (Sideways), the involvement of pre-infamy O.J and Nicole Simpson, and how the film was shot in post-communist Bulgaria, with stories of drunken location managers, shady drivers and other Bulgarian strangeness. Also discussed is his relationship with his late father and his father's legacy, and what it was like working with him on the film.

The single-disc release comes housed in an over-sized Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original VHS artwork, and a limited edition slipcover (o-card) plus a booklet with new writing on the film from Dr. Calum Waddell detailing the franchise and putting this would-be third entry in the Hills Have Eyes series in context of the first two film and the remake and it's own sequel (which was scripted by Jonatahan Craven). The only other disc extra is a 2-minute widescreen trailer for the film.  

This title has also been released on Blu-ray in the U.S. by Code Red, while I haven't seen it for the sake of A/V comparison I do know that this release from 88 Films is the only release to have a substantial new extra, that being the 39-minute interview with Craven's son, which is a worthy extras, as where the Code Red release only has the trailer. 

Special Features: 
- HD transfer from the Original Negative
- English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 Audio with Optional English Subtitles
- Stories From the Outpost - An Interview with Producer/Writer, Jonathan Craven (39 mins) HD
- Original Trailer (2 min) HD 
- Reversible Sleeve with Alternate Artwork

Mind Ripper (1995) is a bit of direct-to-video dud but the tenuous link to Craven's The Hills Have Eyes franchise and the participation of Craven himself and his son make this somewhat noteworthy mid-90's DTV horror entry. The 88 Films Blu-ray looks and sounds about as good as this one could with handsome packaging and a notable new extra by way of that Jonathan Craven interview, if you need to own it this movie this is the one to own. 

All the screenshots used for this this review were sourced by me directly from the disc being reviewed, provided to us for the purpose of review by 88 Films.