Monday, April 29, 2019

CLEOPATRA JONES (1973) (Warner Archive Blu-ray Review)


Label: Warner Archive 
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: PG
Duration: 89 Minutes
Audio: English DTS HD-MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1)
Director: Jack Starrett
Cast: Tamara Dobson, Bernie Casey, Shelley Winters, Antonio Fargas, Brenda Sykes

Blaxpoloitation meets 007 in Cleopatra Jones (1973) starring 6'2" model Tamara Dobson (Chained Heat) as the titular bad-ass federal drug agent, who at the start off the film is napalming a large swath of heroin producing poppy fields in Turkey. Jump cut to a scene of the film's baddie, a drug kingpin named Mommy (Shelley Winters, Poor Pretty Eddie), screaming about how that "black bitch" just destroyed thirty-million dollars worth of her dope. In retaliation Mommy has the corrupt LAPD cops that work for her bust the drug-rehab house Cleo's boyfriend operates, which brings the agent back to L.A.. Now Mommy's goons are out for her blood, but this bad-ass karate-kitten might be more than Mommy dearest bargained for! 

I don't remember loving this film all that much the first time I watched it years ago, but I think at the time I was too entrenched in my love of blaxploitation goddess Pam Grier (Coffy) to give it an honest appraisal, but watching it again ten-years or more later the action-packed has proven to more fruitful and rewarding. This viewing I was able to more appreciate Tamara Dobson, a goddess in her own right, her character's a bad-ass, kung-fu fighting mama with a sweet-looking '73 Corvette Stingray, and an ever changing array of stylish outfits throughout the film, all of which serve to separate her from the rest of the 70's black-action pack. 

The film co-stars Bernie Casey (Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde) as her lover, plus we have the rubber-faced antics of Antonio Fargas (Foxy Brown) as a drug dealer named Doodlebug Simpkins, with his girlfriend played by looker Brenda Sykes (Black Gunn). Shelley Winters is a ton of fun as the over-the-top baddie, regularly mistreating her crew of henchmen who repeatedly fail in their assignments to kill Cleopatra. Mommy is also attended to by a pair of attractive women who seem to there only to serve Mommy alcohol when she gets angry, also possibly hinting at the lesbian leanings of the kingpin. 

Directed by Jack Starrett (Race With The Devil) the film has some fun fight sequences and a killer car chase through the streets of L.A. and in the L.A. River, capping the film off with a finale that takes place in a junkyard, making this slice of blaxploitation cinema quite a bit of fun. While not on par with Coffy and Foxy Brown, the presence of the 6' 2'' Tamara Dobbs packs a solid punch, as does a great supporting cast, including the scenery-chewing Shelley Winters as Mommy! 

Audio/Video: Cleopatra Jones (1973) arrives on Blu-ray from Warner Archive with a brand new 2019 HD scan, presenting the film in 1080p HD widescreen 2.40:1. The presentation looks fantastic with a clean looking image free of dirt, debris and imperfection, aside from what looks to be one single moment of digital artifacting that shows up in the airport action sequence, a squarish grey patch that shows up on her pant leg mid kick, you check it out in the seventh screenshot in this review. That very small niggle aside, the grain levels are pleasing, the blacks are deep with colors looking quite nice when called upon, especially the yellows, reds and greens. The film is not visually stylish or particularly stunning but the presentation is quite filmic and natural looking. The vintage 70's decor, textures and wardrobe all have some great detail throughout, bringing this slice of 70's blaxploitation to life like never before on home video, I doubt it even looked this good on the first night it screened at the cinema on opening night. 

Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 mix with optional (ALL CAPS) English subtitles, the source is not the most dynamic but it's clean and well-balanced throughout, the excellent score from J. J. Johnson (Willie Dynamite) also sounds great. 

The only extras on this one is an HD trailer for the film, to bad we couldn't at least get a new commentary for this one, there's probably a lot that could have been gleaned from a film historian about this action-packed film, it is too bad they couldn't get someone like Dr. Todd Boyd who did the commentary track for WAC's Super Fly, or Sergio Mim's who did one for Arrow's Willie Dynamite.

Special Features:
Theatrical Trailer (HD)

Warner Archive come through with a stellar presentation of Cleopatra Jones (1973) on Blu-ray, here's hoping they follow-up soon with the sorely undervalued sequel Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975).  This excellent looking Blu-ray can be picked up for under $20 right now, if you're  fan of blaxploitation and 70's crime film this is a very easy recommend. 


Friday, April 26, 2019

INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS (1972) (Severin Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Severin Films
Duration: 77 Minutes
Region Code: Region-FREE  
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen 

Audio: English DTS-HD MA with Optional English Subtitles  
Director: Ed Adlum
Cast: Norman Kelley, Tanna Hunter, Bruce Detrick

Don't be fooled by the opening narration that sounds like a spot-on James Mason (Salem's Lot) impersonation, even Mason during his long and storied career never appeared in a film as bad as Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972), a regional slice of low-budget drive-in schlock filmed in rural Upstate, New York in the early 70's by a crew of NYC exploitation filmmakers looking to make a quickie drive-in flick. These inept cinema-souls included director Ed Adlum (Shriek of the Mutilated), writer Ed Kelleher (Prime Evil) and cinematographer/editor duo Michael & Roberta Findlay (The Touch of Flesh).

The aforementioned opening narration informs us of an ancient Druid blood-cult called the Sangroids, possibly of alien origin, who have thrived throughout history. Now based in a rural area in NY where they're draining the local yokels of their blood in an effort to revive their long dormant Queen Onhorrid (Cynthia Fleming) who they keep in a glass coffin is some state of suspended animation, at least that's what I think, because she's still breathing in there from the looks of it, unless that's a film flub, which I must say is very likely. 

After the opening narration over a scene of people wandering the hills the film opens with an unfortunate local escaping the Sangroids and staggering into the local watering hole where he falls dead to the floor. Local pathologist Dr. Roy Anderson (Norman Kelley) gets a sample of the man's blood and examines in his laboratory, noticing that there's something strange about it, it seems to be replicating itself, growing in mass. 

Meanwhile the cult lead by the creepy Creeton (Paul Craig Jennings), and his crony Egon (Jack Neubeck, Shriek of the Mutilated), keep draining the locals of their blood in a run down shack in the woods. The scenes of the blood draining are good fun with some gruesome sounding gurgles with the victims struggling, squirming and screaming as the blood is drained from their bodies through lengths of medical tubing. This z-grade slice of drive-in cinema is awful, but it's never 
boring, it might be corny but it is not dull! 

While all this weirdness is happening around the village the dimwitted Sheriff is conveniently out of town, leaving the safety of the village in the hands of a drunk deputy who hangs out at the bar all day, with the bar's payphone acting as an impromptu 9-1-1 service. Eventually Dr. Anderson’s attractive daughter, Jenny (Tanna Hunter) becomes a target of the Sangroids, who believe she is the chosen one that will enable them to revive their long dormant blood-cult Queen. 

That summary description of the film is a lot more coherent than actually watching the film, it's a real stinker that was poorly conceived and shoddily executed, with acting that ranges from wooden to comically overwrought. It's all a hot mess all around, but it all comes together in such a deliciously inept way. If you're a bad movie lover this is probably a movie that will be delightful in all the wrong ways, something you can marathon along with Plan 9 from Outer Space, Manos: The Hands of Fate, I Drink Your BloodThe Creeping Terror or any of the Al Adamson films.

The editing is all over the place with all manner of strange and a random cuts, the audio suffering hiccups galore, scenes transition from day to night several times within the same few minutes, and one day flows into the next with nary a transition in sight to put across the passage of time, plus the film has zero style, it's very static. It's an inept film no doubt but it has that regional cinema charm that we lovers of the weird, the strange and the bad cannot get e enough of, so if you're a like-minded cinema soul this is worth a watch. It;s the sort of film that makes I Drink Your Blood seem like a masterpiece in comparison, seemingly channeling the inner Ed Wood of all involved.  

Audio/Video: Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972) arrives on Blu-ray from Severin Films with a new scan of the original camera negative framed in 1080p HD widescreen (1.85:1) looking very impressive for such a bottom-of-the-barrel drive-in relic from the early 70's. The source shows some age related wear and tear by way of speckling and scratches, but grain looks well-managed and the colors look particularly bright, but reds do seem a bit pinkish in the color timing, not sure of that's true to the source or a color timing snafu, but either way it's not ruinous.  Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA Mono with optional English subtitles, and it's fidelity is limited by the source, sounding flat and slightly muffled from time to time but overall not too shabby for a cheapie of this vintage, but there is a little hiss on the track, but for a grindhouse cheapier I think it's perfectly acceptable. . 

Severin offer up a handful of good extras, beginning with actor Jack Neuback who played the floppy farmer's hat wearing cultist Egon shows up for a 12-min interview discussing how he ended up in the film, the nature of the production as drive-in filler, how there was barely a script, and how budget restraints lead to the Sangroids being downgraded from aliens to druids. The actor also discusses shooting the film over a period of three weekends, his character's limp, how the dog attack scene was assembled, the blood FX, and touching on the music for the film, and his contribution to the soundtrack of Shriek of the Mutilated. He speaks fondly of The Findley's, and mentioning the tragic death of Michael Findley. 

Next up is an interview that in my opinion is worth the price of admission for this Blu-ray all on it's own, director Eddie Adlum recounting his storied career, wanting to make monster movie from a young age, and his time in the band the The Castle King's and their novelty song "You Can Get Him Frankenstein" which landed them on Atlantic Records for a very brief stint after being spotted on the street by Phil Spector. Recounting his time working for Cashbox magazine, and his own jukebox and coin-op magazine RePlay (1978-1982), where he claims he coined the term "video game". He also touches on this crazy film as well as the even-worse Shriek of the Mutilated, which his friend Michael Findley directed. Adlum also digs deeper into his association with Findley, watery-eyed and emotionally 
recalling his death-by-helicopter on the top of the Pan Am Building.  

We also get a 5-min interview with cinematographer Frederick Elmes who was a camera assistant on the film, who went on to have a very successful DP career of his own, working with David Lynch, Ang Lee, and Jim Jarmusch among others. He's pretty dismissive of the film but says he learned a lot while working on the film. 

Extras are topped-off with a trailer, plus a brand new audio commentary with director Ed Adlum and actress Ortrum Tippel, moderated by Kier-La Janisse, author of House of Psychotic Women. The director is a rather good storyteller with a storied career so it's a lively track and Kier-La Janisse does good work keeping it on track and probing.

Special Features:
- Audio commentary with director Ed Adlum and actress Ortrum Tippel, moderated by Kier-La Janisse, author of House of Psychotic Women
- Nothing You’d Show Your Mom: Eddie Adlum’s journey through exploitation, coin-op & rock n’ roll  (22 min) 
- Interview with actor Jack Neubeck (12 min) 
- Painful Memories: An interview with cinematographer Frederick Elmes (5 min) 
- Trailer (2 min) 

Fans of regional drive-in schlock are in for a delightfully demented slice of trash-cinema, and I mean that in a very affectionate sort of way. I mean it's still a pile of crap, bit Severin come through with a good looking presentation and some worthwhile extras.