Monday, July 30, 2018




This week we have an eclectic mix of capsule reviews, some classic 80's TV, irreverent superhero animation, anime, an 80's Aussie sex-comedy, 80's SOV horror, and a darkly comedic tale of organ-harvesting.

CRIME TIME TV: HOT STREETS AND COOL COPS: MIAMI VICE & KNIGHT RIDER SEASON ONE on DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment, here we get both the first seasons of these two eighties TV classics packaged together with a bonus set called 'TV's Greatest Crime Stoppers', with a slipcase housing all three sets. I remember watching both these series from the premiere on as a kid, I was a total 80's kid I loved both of these shows a bunch, butlets be honesy folks, Knight Rider just doesn't hold-up, it's a bit of cheese-fest, but that's not all bad, I still dig it in a sorta bad TV kind of way, we have the bonafide 80's hunk in cool-guy David Hasslehoff fighting crime with his wisecracking artificially intelligent car K.I.T.T., it's a product of it's time, a talking car just doesn't seem all that odd or cool these days. Miami Vice on the other hand still holds up as a Stylish 80's crime series, set in Miami (duh) and loaded with great 80's songs from INXS, U2 and Peter Gabriel, from the mind of Michael Mann (Manhunter) this thing still sucked me in from episode one, equally glamorous and gritty this is seriously one of the best shows of the 80's. 

Also from Mill Creek Entertainment we have the animated superhero send-up  THE AWESOME: THE COMPLETE SERIES on 3-disc Blu-ray, this show was co-created by Seth Meyers (Late Night with Seth Meyers, SNL) who also voices the main character. A fun take on  the superhero team concept featuring Meyers and a crew of SNL alumni doing a riff on misfit superheros, the all-star cast features the comedic talents of Kennan Thomspon, Cecily Strong, Bill Hader, Amy Poehler, Leslie ones and loads more. If you're  fan of irreverent superhero fare like  Mystery Men you should have a blast with The Awesome, way better than that godawful Teen Titans Go!, ugh. The 3-disc set collects all three season (30 episodes) and it looks and sounds great. The set includes a real Mill Creek rarity - EXTRAS! - and comes with a slip. 

In the straight-up comedy corner we have LIFE OF THE PARTY (2018) from Warner Bros. who sent us the Blu-ray for review. This is a comedy that answers the question, can any of the classic 80's comedies be remade today and still work? Okay, this is not a remake, but it's basically a version of the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School (1980) with a gender reversal. When Melissa McCarthy's character is dumped by her philandering husband for another women she returns to the same college as her senior-year daughter to fulfill a life-long dream of finishing up her own senior year, and collegiate/family comedy ensues. McCarthy is a funny lady, I love her is most of her stuff but this one feels like an extended SNL sketch, a of vignettes with a loosely connected story that doesn't try hard to be deep and succeeds. It's funny, but the laughs are superficial and the story doesn't resonate, but it offers McCarthy a chance to work against a cast of funny young people, who are all pretty great, standouts being Gillian Jacobs who I thought was awesome, plus an appearance by Heidi Gardner from SNL as McCarthy's goth roommate, plus Maya Rudolpbh as her bestie, who is always fun. The Blu-ray/DVD combo comes with a Movie Anywhere digital code and some fun extras, including 46 minutes of outtakes and extended scenes.

If you're looking for something seriously demented and fun check out LOWLIFE (2018) on Blu-ray from IFC Midnight and Scream Factory, a darkly comic film about the titular lowlifes who live in a particularly seedy neighborhood. We have three different stories cross-threaded in a way that brought to mind Pulp Fiction, stories of sex-slavery, organ harvesting, and drugs all anchored by a masked Mexican wrestler who calls himself El Monstruo, a guy who tries to do good in the world but is in the pocket of a sleazy crime boss who runs the neighborhood, and also has psychotic blackouts that always end with destruction. Also making an appearance are a pair of bumbling kidnappers, one with a huge swastika tatted on his face, and a crooked ice agent in the service of the crime boss. The comedy is super-dark and the movie is surprisingly grotesque with some nice gory moments. The single-disc release includes a pair of commentaries, making of featurette, short films and a slipcover, plus a sleeve of reversible artwork. 

For connoisseurs of 80's sex-comedies I offer up the Aussie screwball comedy PACIFIC BANANA (1981) from Umbrella Entertainment, a rather pleasantly inept slice of sexed-up farce about an airline pilot (Graeme Blundell, Alvin Purple) whose love life is seriously dampened by an incorrigible sneeze that flattens his love-rod at inopportune moments, visualized by a recurring wind-sock visual gag that pops up throughout. This cheeky romp is fun and goofily lurid with loads of nude women trying to arouse the Mr. Sneeze-a-Lots. If you're just looking to ogle some gorgeous women who throw themselves needlessly at a guy with an broken joystick you could do a lot worse. The region-free PAL formatted disc is anamorphc widescreen and has quite a few extras including a making of mini-doc, interview with director John D. Lamond (Felicity) and more. 

For all you 80's SOV (Shot-On-Video) junkies out there we have THE VIOLENCE MOVIE (PARTS & 2) (1988), a pair of truly homemade slasher shorts made by brothers Eric and David Wilkinson. These were shot on consumer grade video camcorders, they're inept but infused with a true-love of the slasher genre that shines through. I cannot say straight-faced that these were good by any stretch of the imagination - they're awful - but I love the heart behind them, but these make the Video Violence films look like Friday the 13th by comparison. That these have arrived on DVD thirty years later with a prestigiously packaged presentation is a head scratching wonder, the set includes a reversible sleeve that mimics big box VHS releases from the 80's, with the well-worn VHS rental look with fake rental stickers, a design I most associate with the MVD Rewind Collection from the same label. The extras include commentaries, alternate version, outtakes, 2003 re-shoots, trailer and gallery. Did I mention that Harry Manfredini (Friday the 13th) does the score for these!?! Yeah, it's not his best stuff, but as someone who made shitty horror film on video in the 80's with friends I couldn't imagine any of them showing up on DVD with extras, sweet packaging and a score from Manfredini, we live in strange and wondrous times indeed!  

Finishing-up up this week we have a trio of anime titles on DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment by way of ANIME 3-SERIES COLLECTION which collects Ultraviolet: Code 044, Kurozuka and Viper's Creed, nearly 14 hours of anime craziness on three-discs. I gave these a shot and was not a fan of them, I mainly wanted to check out Ultraviolet: Code 044 because I had watched the film adaptation and thought it was serviceable, but not great. However, if you're looking to pick these series up on the cheap this set will only set you back $25, the solo collections for these series alone will easily set you back $30 plus each, so it's a gonga-deal for fans.

If I had to pick just of these releases and give it the seal of approval I'm going with Lowlife (2018), it's super dark and seedy comedy with intertwining stories that come together in a deliciously twisted and satisfying way, loved it, highly recommended. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME! (1978) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)


Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 97 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Fullscreen (1.33:1), Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: John Carpenter 
Cast: Lauren Hutton, David Birney, Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Grainger Hines, Len Lesser, John Mahon, James Murtaugh

Made before Halloween (1978) but not aired till a month after it's release John Carpenter's made-for-TV thriller Someone's Watching me! (1978) is one of the director's more overtly Hitchcock-ian thrillers with a story pulled straight from the headlines, we have an L.A. TV producer named Leigh (Lauren Hutton, Once Bitten) who moves into a high-rise apartment building with a sister tower across the way, After moving in she finds out that the woman who lived there previously committed suicide, and soon after begins receiving strange phone calls from an anonymous caller, also receiving gifts from a fake company called Excursions Unlimited, at first the calls are an annoyance but soon enough they begin to turn darker, with the caller threatening kill her. 

This one is a decent TV thriller for the period, but it has some drawn-out melodrama that slows it down, but even in this post-Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) film you can see some steady cam and POV shots that would inform Carpenter's next film, the iconic slasher Halloween (1978). Hutton is good here, an attractive career woman who rises to the occasion when she finds her privacy encroached upon by an unwanted male, the movie makes a point not to sexualize her, she's played smart and has no problem rebuffing unwanted advances from the men who surround her. She take on a new lover by way of Paul Wrinkes (David Birney, Nightfall), and she has a lesbian best-friend played by the future wife and muse of Carpenter, Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog), who notably plays the character contrary to 70s stereotype, which was not the norm for the period.

As Carpenter films go this is one that is not at the top of the pile for me, it's a TV movie, which was a more prestigious platform back in the day, when there were four major TV channels. It's good within those confines, but it doesn't have the visceral Carpenter edge I'm craving, but that's not to say it doesn't have plenty of Carpenter-ism throughout, with a strong final girl who fights back, some good voyeuristic use of POV and the camera is always moving, which feels like a directorial choice I didn't remember from a lot of TV movies from that period, so it's interesting to see what he was capable of early on in his career. It's also great to see Carpenter regular Charles Cyphers (Halloween) as, what else, a cop, plus Len Lesser (Blood and Lace), who most will fondly remember as Uncle Leo from the Seinfeld TV series, as a possible creeper. 

Audio/Video: Someone's Watching Me (1978) arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory with a fresh 2K scan of the interpositive performed by Warner Bros., Scream offer the option to watch it in the original fullframe (1.33:1) version or the matted 1.85:1 widescreen. I prefer the widescreen version, it looks comfortable and doesn't feel cramped in the framing aside from a few shots. It's nice to have the original full frame version that aired on TV, which was not offered on the 2007 DVD from Warner Bros.. Colors are noticeably more saturated than the DVD, grain looks nicely managed if course in a few scenes, and blacks are deep and inky looking, it just looks real nice transfer and a marked improvement over the DVD. 

Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA Mono with optional English subtitles, the audio has some analog hiss present but it's subtle and not overpowering, but it's there if you're listening.  The score from composer Harry Sukman comes through nicely, adding some orchestral suspense to the proceedings, though it does sound a bit off for a Carpenter film, but for a made-for-TV film it's alright, he would go onto do the score for Tobe Hooper's TV mini-series Salem's Lot (1979) the next year. 

Scream Factory offer a few new extras for this TV film, beginning with a brand new audio commentary with author Amanda Reyes (Are You in the House Alone?: A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999) who begins with a discussion of the "male gaze" and how that represented in the film, she gets into the careers of the main cast, Carpenter's filmography, and other made-for-TV films. It's a good listen and offers some good insight into he film I didn't have before, siting many literary references along the way.  

There's a new 10-minute interview with Adrienne Barbeau who played the bestie of the main character, she discusses being cast in the film because Carpenter saw her as a Howard Hawks-ian type of woman, how the the film was based on a real-life stalking incident, meeting Carpenter and eventually marrying him, playing a non-stereotypical gay character, which was not common at the time on TV or in the cinema. 

Actor Charles Cypher recalls meeting Carpenter for Assault on Precinct 13, shooting Soneone's Watching Me on the Warner's lot and on location, going onto Halloween, walking is through his collaborations with Carpenter, seeing him mature as a director as the films go along. He also mentions being surprised that Kurt Russell would be playing Elvis in Carpenter's TV film about the King, and how blown away he was by the performance, and noting how worldly Lee Van Cleef turned out to be on the set of Escape from New York. 

We also get another episode of Horror's Hallowed Grounds revisiting some of the location used in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, including the high-rise apartments, the bar, some establishing shots throughout L.A., even getting inside one of the apartment buildings.   

Scream Factory carry-over a brief 6-min archival clip of Carpenter discussing the film and how it happened that he ended-up directing it, casting Lauren Hutton and Adrienne Barbeau, and how it helped mold his style of shooting on Halloween, plus some Hitchcock zooms he used in the film, and a stunt Hutton performed fighting the villain while leaning out of an actual window, which for anyone with a fear of heights will give you a fright. He packs in some good info for such a brief clip, good stuff, glad they carried it over.  

The last of the extras are 2 TV spots for the TV film - narrated by nasally radio personality Casey Kasem - plus a 1min gallery of the Warner press kit, stills from the film, plus various home video releases. 

The single-disc non-collector's edition release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a 2-sided sleeve of artwork, the a-side featuring the familiar key art used on the 2007 DVD with the reverse side featuring images from the film and information about the transfer. This is not a collector's edition so no slip. 

Special Features:
- NEW 2K scan from the original film elements – in both 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 aspect ratios
- NEW audio commentary with author Amanda Reyes (Are You in the House Alone?: A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999)
- NEW Adrienne Barbeau: Looking Back at Someone’s Watching Me (1q1 min) HD 
- NEW Carpenter’s Enforcer – an interview with Charles Cyphers on his career in John Carpenter’s films (10 min) HD 
- NEW Horror’s Hallowed Grounds – a look at the film’s locations today (7 min) HD
- John Carpenter: Director Rising (6 min) 
- TV Promo (1 min) 
- Still Gallery (1 min) HD

It will always be a treat for me to see more John Carpenter films debut on Blu-ray, I'm still waiting for Ghost of Mars and Escape from L.A. to get special edition Blu-rays, just give me some news extras and a new transfer and I'm on board. I don't dislike Someone's Watching Me (1978) but it's not a cherished film either,, it's a bit dry, but I love hearing the stories about the making of it on the extras and commentaries, they gave me a new appreciation for this formerly "lost" gem from Carpenter's early career. If you're a Carpenter completest or a 70's made-for TV movie connoisseur you need this one in your collection, Scream Factory did good work on this one and the transfer and extras are great.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

BLACK MAGIC 2 (1976) (88 Films Blu-ray Review)

BLACK MAGIC 2  (1976) 
Label: 88 Films
Region Code: B
Duration: 88 Minutes 
Rating: 18 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: English and Chinse LPCM Dual Mono 2.0 with Optional English and Chinese Subtitles 
Director: Ho Meng Hua
Cast: Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Liu Hui-Ju, Lily Li, Lin Wei-Tu

The Shaw Bros supernatural kung-fu opus Black Magic 2 (1976) is (surprise!) a sequel to Black Magic (1975), both film were directed by Ho Meng Hua (The Flying Guillotine), who must have been something special because I know some of his film, and spoiler alert, I'm not all well that well versed in kung fu cinema. While it might be a sequel but it has little do do with the first film other than the evil magic premise, opening  quite pleasurably with a a gaggle of young Asian women swimming nude in a muddy river. They're having fun until one of them swims off alone and is attacked and killed by a alligator! In the aftermath a white magician captures the killer gator and cuts it him open on a dock, pulling a bracelet out of its stomach and returning it to the victim's friends... and cue the opening credits! This tasty bit of hybrid exploitation is merely an introduction to the good magician who will turn up much later in the film to battle evil.

Evil comes to us by way of a black magician (black meaning bad, not African American) named  Kang Cong (Lieh Lo),a sorcerer who loves the ladies, and his Siamese cat, he reminded me of Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, or Austin Powers nemesis Dr. Evil for you youngins, the way his cat was ever-present. Cong cruises bars and grocery stores looking for a women with a bloody finger or an open wound, hoping to mix their blood with his voodoo-style wax figures, thereby ensnaring them in his black magic wackiness. The magician sells his dark skills to lonely men who want him to cast love spells on women they adore, which has some unintended side effects, like the rapid aging of a gorgeous woman into a hideous old hag with festering sores while he's having sex with her. The magician also has some unorthodox methods, making an elixir whose main ingredient seems to be burnt pubic hair, and drinking fresh titty-milk to maintain his youth, and that's just the beginning of the strangeness. 

His black magic ways are causing an epidemic of puss-oozing illnesses around the city, enter three goodly doctors who are looking to get to the bottom of the strange illnesses, with symptoms that include oddly worm-infested wounds! The docs begin by looking for legit medical causes but when faced with the inescapable truth they come to believe in the local black magic superstitions. 

This one goes way over-the-top with gore for the period, it might seem old-hat watching it now but for '76 (pre-Dawn of the Dead) this was powerful stuff! Gore and grossness comes by way of the docs desecrating graves, dead cats, a magician plucking out his own eyes and gifting them to one of the docs who later eats them to gain his power, and the black magician drives nine-inch spikes into the skulls of cadavers to reanimate them as his zombie minions, also using his sorcery to make people faces melt and their fingernails fall off, which never fails to make me cringe, even when it looks cheesy as Hell like it does here. 

The gore is gooey and gross and comes at a steady clip, but not all of it looks great onscreen, but the festering puss-filled sores, blood-spitting, melting faces and worm-infested wounds are pretty great, a few optical effects like a fight on top of a cable car above the city not so great. The kung-fu elements don't show up till the final few minutes, which suited me just fine, I'm just not that big into martial arts films and I more than enjoyed the supernatural oddity of this one, a real WTF slive of kung-fu cinema that has a lot for horror fans to gorge their eyes on. 

The one is plenty creepy with some odd sexual situations and leering looks, all the characters seem to have inherent bizarreness, and watching the bad magician follow women around and pricking them with rose thorns and broken glass to get a sample of their blood is voyeuristic fun. This Shaw Bros. production has plenty of good atmosphere and production values, with a fun score that makes it a good watch, even if the middle half slows down a bit, it all comes back around in the final third with a sprint of supernatural weirdness and sorcerer battle-action.  

Audio/Video: Black Magic 2 (1976) arrives on Blu-ray from 88 Films as part of their 88 Asia Collection, presented in 1080p HD and framed in 2.35:1 widescreen, advertised as being remastered from the original negative. The image looks quite nice with some good fine detail and saturated colors, occasionally it can look a tiny bit soft but the black levels are good and the abundance of nude skin look natural. Audio comes by way of uncompressed Mandarin or dubbed-English with optional Chinese and English subtitles. 

The only extra on the disc is a great commentary from Ian Jane of Rock! Shock! Pop! review site who offers up a wealth of knowledge about the production, touching on the locations, which rappers sampled which songs on the soundtrack, and the cast and crew. As I don't know a ton about the the Shaw Bros, or kung fu cinema in general, the commentary was a serious bit of schooling for me, which I appreciated.

The single-disc release comes housed in a clear oversized Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork that offers three artwork options. The initial limited edition release also includes a matte finish slipcover featuring the artwork that I know from the American alternate title of Revenge of the Zombies, but with the Black Magic 2 logo, the LE version also comes with a booklet with new writings from Dr. Calum Waddell, speaking about it's American distribution and re titling, espousing the under sung legacy of distributor Albert Schwartz and noting the over-the-top gore which pre-dated Fulci and Romero. The disc itself features a scene from the film. 

Special Features: 
- Limited Edition First Pressing Matt Finish Slipcase and Booklet Notes by Dr. Calum Waddell
- Remastered in 2.35:1 from the Original Negative
- Uncompressed English Soundtrack
- Uncompressed Mandarin Soundtrack with English Subtitles
- Audio Commentary by Film Journalist and webmaster at Rock! Shock! Pop!, Ian Jane 
- Reverse Sleeve featuring Original Hong Kong Poster Art

Black Magic 2 (1976) is an insane kunf-fu horror sequel loaded with sorcery, nudity, cloaked minions, phantoms and voodoo-controlled zombies - what's not to love? The presentation from 88 Films is top-notch and the new commentary from Ian Jane was a great listen, and this is coming from someone who's just not that into kung-fu cinema, I had a blast with this one.