Friday, March 29, 2019

THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)


Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 79 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with optional English Subtitles 
Video: B&W 1080P HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Nathan Juron 
Cast: Craig Stevens, Alix TaltonFlorenz Ames, Donald Randolph

Synopsis: What’s worse than a horde of locusts? A gigantic man-eating praying mantis, released from a million years of deep, frozen sleep and ready to claw its way to world domination! This menacing insect kills everything in its path while scientists and military men work feverishly to stop it. Craig Stevens (Abbott And Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde) stars as the commander in charge of putting an end to this beastly insect with William Hopper (20 Million Miles To Earth) as the paleontologist and Alix Talton (The Man Who Knew Too Much) as his beautiful assistant, a photojournalist, assigned to help in this epic battle between man and mantis!

From a very early age I've always loved me some atomic-age creature features and this mantis versus man slice of 50's schlock ranks high among them on purely a nostalgic level, having watched it multiple times on my grannies TV as a kid. When a volcanic eruption frees a 200-foot long praying mantis from it's ice age imprisonment inside a block of arctic ice the creature sets out on a destructive rampage. First destroying a U.S. military outpost in the arctic, and then downing an Air Force cargo plane. Inspecting the wreckage the military discover a large claw of some sort, unable to identify it they take to a paleontologist who identifies it as belonging to a praying mantis of unusually large size.

This atomic-age big-bug movie didn't hold up quite as well as I remember from when I was still in the single-digits, but I still had fun with it. There's just something about these silly giant bug movies from the 50s that appeals to me, and the mantis here is well crafted and cool-looking. What drags the movie down is the copious amounts of cruddy-looking stock footage of fighter jets scrambling - there's just so much of it - this 79-minute movie is probably only about 60-minutes worth of actual film and 20-minutes of stock footage all told! 

That aside the film has some awesome creature effects and the final battle which happens on the East Coast is awesome. The final showdown happening inside the Manhattan Tunnel that was still very satisfying, with scientists and military men taking down the giant-sized insect armed with flamethrowers! Other earlier highlights include the bug emerging from the fog to attack a city bus, and the mantis destroying a research lab in the arctic.

Audio/Video: Atomic-age, big-bug film The Deadly Mantis debuts on Blu-ray from Scream Factory, presenting the film in 1080p HD widescreen (1.85:1). Advertised as a new 2K scan from original film elements, probably a release print, it looks reasonably solid. The black and white cinematography looks pleasing in HD, the abundance of stock footage sourced stuff is in poor shape with chunkier grain, but overall the image is fine looking with good contrast and texture throughout.

Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 that does the job, the track manages the audio and score nicely without distortion, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Extras on this include a new audio commentary from film historian Tom Weaver who is very open about how bad the film is, but offers some fun insights and observations about the production. There's also an episode of MST3K covering the film, plus a trailer for the film and a gallery of promotional images and movie posters, and this creature feature has some great looking movie posters! 

The single-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve artwork featuring the original movie poster on the a-side, plus a cool looking landscape framed artwork on the reverse, though it's not reversible, but it is cool looking. The disc itself features features a sepia tone image of actress Alix Talton caught in mid-scream. 

Special Features:
- NEW 2K Scan of the original film elements
- NEW Audio Commentary with film historian Tom Weaver
 - Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode “The Deadly Mantis” (02/22/97)(92 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- Still Gallery (8 min) 

The Deadly Mantis (1957) is a fun 50's big-bug movie from Universal, and Scream Factory have done good work bringing it to Blu-ray with some cool extras. If you're a fan of this sort of atomic-age schlock this is a no-brainer, add this to your collection straight away!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

PET SEMATARY (1989) (4K UltraHD Review)


Label: Paramount Pictures 
Duration: 103 Minutes 
Audio:  English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 2160p HD Widescreen 
Directors: Mary Lambert 
Cast: Fred Gwynne, Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby

Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) moves his wife and young kids to small town Maine after being offered a new job as a doctor at a nearby university. The new place is great, it's set near a serene lake, the grass is green, the air is fresh and the new neighbor is a welcoming sort of guy. However, the place does have a few drawbacks, for starters it is situated right next to highway with what seems to be an unending parade of tractor trailers whizzing by at top-speed, and  there's a spooky old pet cemetery in the woods just behind their new house.

Elderly neighbor Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne, The Munsters) warns Louis about he dangers of the road and how it eats up pets at an alarming rate, which it does in quick order, beginning with the Creed's beloved cat Church. Hoping to save Louis' daughter Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) the heartache of losing her feline Crandall takes Louis to a strange place beyond the pet cemetery, a old MicMac Indian burial ground, where he instructs Creed to bury the cat. 

The next day Church seemingly returns from the dead, with the doc assuming that the feline was in fact not dead when they buried it, but when the cat becomes abnormally aggressive he begins to believe in the power of the MicMac burial ground. Later when his toddler son Gage (Miko Hughes, Wes Craven's New Nightmare) becomes another victim of the highway he remembers the restorative powers of the MicMac burial ground, and against the advice of Crandall - the damn fool who turned him onto the ways of resurrection - he exhumes his son and re-buries him in the ancient burial ground with dire consequences. 

This is one of those movies I watched on TV over and over again in the 90s, I loved the the rural setting, and the kindly old neighbor who plants the seeds of destruction which will undo both he and the Creed family. Miko Hughes is one of the creepiest kid actors ever, and his turn as the reanimated son is the stuff of nightmares. When that damn kid dispatches Crandall with a scalpel still gets me, the scene of him crawling out from beneath a bed, laughing eerily, slicing through the old man's Achille, that's good stuff.

I think Midkiff is a bit wooden in his role of the dad, when he loses his son and weird shit turns deadly his pulse rate never seems rise, but he is serviceable, I totally by his anguished scream when he cannot save his son. There are also a few other nice touches that keep this one creepy, a character named  Victor Pascow is killed on the road while jogging early on, Creed is haunted by his spectre from early on, warning Creed that the ground beyond the pet cemetery is "sour" and to avoid it, a warning that he ignores once his son dies. Louis's wife is also haunted by visions, those of her deceased sister Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek) who passed on years earlier from spinal meningitis, the flashback scenes her are nightmarish, her deformed body unnaturally twisted, driven insane by her illness. 

As a teen I found the movie very effecting and eerie, watching it now as a father I find it even more disturbing, the themes of loss and grief really hit home with me and linger, even though I do think the drama is a bit ham-fisted looking back at it. The lengths to which this grieving father will go to bring back the wholeness of his family is pretty stunning, and the ending always has me shouting at the screen - don't do it!

Audio/Video: Pet Sematary arrives on 4K Ultra HD from Paramount with a brand new 4K restoration supervised by director Mary Lambert. The 2160p UltraHD image is a stunner, the late-80's horror film is draped in deep blacks, the textures of the architecture, clothing, fur and faces is wonderful with richer tones and more vibrant colors. The HDR gives the film a new life with improved contrast and a broader color spectrum, it's an impressive restoration and the film has truly never looked better. Notably, the 4K presentation is darker than the 2012 Blu-ray, but shadow detail is  excellent throughout, I liked the darker look. But I didn't love everything about it, in one of the extras director Mary Lambert discusses tinkering with the image a bit during the restoration process, she wasn't specific about it, but a change I noticed right away was during the scene where Louis has the nightmare of Pascow taking Louis to the pet sematary, in the original Blu-ray there's a blue glow from beyond the trees, but on this 4K restoration the color-grading turns to black and white for a moment during that scene, there's no blue glow, which I thought was an odd choice, and there are other changes throughout. Overall, I found this new 4K restoration very pleasing, but I am not a fan when directors make these ill-advised changes to a film years after the fact, we love the original movie, we don't need revisionist editing during a restoration! The accompanying Blu-ray disc also contains the new restoration in 1080p HD, which is cool, I hate it when 4K discs just carry-over the inferior Blu-rays. The screenshot comparisons in this review are sourced from the 2012 Blu-ray and the 2019 Blu-ray as I am unable to source 4K images at this time.  

TOP: 2012 Blu-ray
BOTTOM: 2019 Blu-ray

Unfortunately we do not get a new Dolby Atmos remix for this one, but the accompanying DTS-HD MA 5.1 is effective, offering deep bass and crisp sounding dialogue. The score from Elliot Goldenthall (Drugstore Cowboy) having some nice depth and urgency in the mix, optional subtitles are provided. 

TOP: 2012 Blu-ray
BOTTOM: 2019 Blu-ray

This release carries over all the extras from the previous Blu-ray and DVD releases, these include the audio commentary with director Mary Lambert, plus three featurettes; the 13-min 'Stephen King Territory', the 13-min 'The Characters' and the 10-min 'Filming The Horror' (10 min) - these appear on the Blu-ray but not thed 4K disc. New stuff to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film are the 7-min 'Fear and Remembrance', which is an appreciation by the cast of the remake coming out, but if you ask me it's just a advert for the new film, with the cast and crew recalling what they loved about the film. Mary Lambert also shows up for a 10-min look back at making the film, also touching on the process of going back to the original camera negative for this new restoration including the High Dynamic Range (HDR) process and tinkering with the image. 

There are also storyboards with a new introduction by the director, plus galleries of the marketing materials and behind the scenes images.    

The 2-disc release comes housed in a black 4K keepcase with some cool-looking new artwork that captures the tone of the film. There's also slipcover with the same artwork and embossed lettering. In a nice touch the artwork has the look of a well-worn paperback novel, not unlike what Umbrella Entertainment have been doing with their Stephen King releases. . Inside you will find the Blu-ray and 4K discs, plus a digital copy of the film. The artwork 

Special Features: 
- Fear and Remembrance: A look back at this classic with the cast and crew of 2019’s Pet Sematary (7 min) 
- Re-visitation – new interview with Mary Lambert (10 min) 
- Image Galleries: Story Boards Introduction by Mary Lambert (1 min), Storyboards, Marketing, Behind-The_Scenes
- Never before seen storyboards
- Commentary by director Mary Lambert
- Stephen King Territory (13 min) 
- The Characters (13 min) 
- Filming The Horror (10 min) 

Pet Sematary is still a solid watch, the themes are frightening, the execution is creepy and the new 4K release looks and sounds excellent, an easy recommend for fans of the film and of Stephen King adaptations.