Thursday, June 27, 2019

WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK (1993) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)


Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 94 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) & (1.33:1) 
Director: Fred Walton
Cast: Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Jill Schoelen, Gene Lythgow

The made-for-cable-TV sequel When A Stranger Calls Back (1993) reunited original film director Fred Walton with the original stars Charles Durning and Carole Kane, who reprise their roles as Jill Johnson and now retired police Detective John Clifford. We have a new babysitter added to the mix by way of teenager Julie (Jill Schoelen, Popcorn) who while babysitting a pair of kids receives a knock at the front door - not a call as the title might imply. The man at the front door says his car has broken down in the vicinity, and the suspenseful opening plays out very much the same way as in original film, with more or less the same results for the unfortunate kids.

The story then moves ahead five years with the slightly older Julie now a university student at a local college, She still suffers from the traumatic events that she experience years earlier, and now it seems that someone is stalking her, somehow entering her apartment and toying with her in subtle ways. Enter Jill Johnson, the babysitter from the original film, who is now a counselor at the college. While the local cops think Julie is just being paranoid Jill believes her, and she calls in Durning's retired cop character to assist with the case. 

This direct-to-cable TV sequel is a very well-done suspense film, mirroring the original in many ways but also adding some humor, and a few surprisingly dark turns that keep it fresh and avoid falling into the rehash trash-bin. Durning and Kane are great together, while the younger Schoelen turns in a solid performance as the traumatized young woman this being put through the emotional wringer. I do wish they had given a tiny bit more screen time to the stalker played by Gene Lythgow as the stalker, the tiny peeks into his life are intriguing, with him working clubs with a bizarre ventriloquist act, and an uncanny knack for camouflage body-paint..  

Audio/Video: When A Stranger Calls Back (1993) arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory with a new 2K scan from what is advertised as original film elements with the option to view it framed in the original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1 fullframe or a cropped widescreen (1.78:1). It looks very filmic with the widescreen framing without looking too cramped, there are times when we lose some not-unimportant, so you may want to go with the original fullframe version to see the whole image as was intended, but it's also nice to have an option for those with a strong aversion to fullframe movies. Grain looks natural throughout, with the colors being well-saturated with strong lack levels. The 1080p image also offers pleasing amounts of fine detail and textures. Audio comes by way of a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo, offering crisp and clean delivery of both the dialogue and score from composer Dana Kaproff, optional English subtitles are provided.     

Just as the film is surprisingly strong so is the supplement package for this release, with Scream Factory offering three interview from pricipole cast and crew, beginning with Director Fred Walton who shows up for a 13-min interview discussing coming up with the idea for a sequel after having dismissed the notion of a sequel following the initial success of the first film, then pitching it the studio who shelved, before it ended up as at Showtime television. He expresses some disdain towards the network for demanding a happy ending, also going into what it was lie working again with Carol Kane and Charles Durning.

We also get an 8-min interview with Carol Kane, which looks to be a slightly edited version of the same interview that appeared on the UK release from Second Sight Films. Then Actress Jill Schoelen speaks for about 13-min, touching on working with Durning, being cast in the role despite Walton initially being cold on her, and emotionally addressing the real-life victims of similar crimes as portrayed in the film. Schoelen also discusses the film's special effects make-up and the legacy of the underseen film. The disc is finished up with a new restoration of Fred Walton's original short film The Sitter, plus a TV spot for the film. 

The single-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a non-reversible sleeve of artwork, on the reverse side there's an image of Kane and Schoelen in a scene together taken from the film.     

Special Features:
-  NEW 2019 2K scan of the original film elements – in two aspect rations – 1.33:1 (original TV broadcast) and an alternate 1.78:1 version
- NEW Directing A Stranger – an interview with director Fred Walton (13 min) 
- NEW Process is Everything  - an interview with actress Carol Kane (8 min) 
- NEW A Stranger’s Prey – an interview with actress Jill Schoelen (12 min) 
- Fred Walton’s original short film The Sitter (21 min) HD 
- TV Spot (1 min)

When A Stranger Calls (1993) is a made-for-TV sequel that on paper has no right to be as good as it is, a solid thriller through and through with a great cast, including the returning Charles Durning and Karol Kane, plus a solid turn from Jill Schoelen. Scream Factory's Blu-ray release is terrific with multiple viewing options and some cool extras. If you love the first film and haven't given this sequel a shot yet you should, I think it will surprise you. 

THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)


Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 86 Minutes
Audio: English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA, English 3.0 DTS-HD MA Original Perspecta Stereophonic Sound with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) & (1.37:1) Full Frame
Director: Joseph M. Newman
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason, Lance Fuller, Russell Johnson

This vintage slice of 50's sci-fi concerns a group of Earth scientists, lead by atomic scientist Dr. Meacham (Rex Reason, The Creature Walks Among Us), who are discreetly contacted by alien race the Metalunas through means of a device known as the "interocitor". The alien race is represented by the bulbous-brained Exeter (Jeff Morrow, Octaman), who transports the science guys (and gal Dr. Ruth Adams, played by Faith Domergue, The House of Seven Corpses) to his faraway planet Metaluna via flying saucer. There he enlists the scientist help in turning lead into uranium to power a depleted energy shield the Metalunans use to shield their planet from meteoric-powered attack from their enemy the Zagons.

However, when the Metalunans leader the Monitor (Douglas Spencer) reveals that his plan is to vacate their dying planets and invade Earth, and subjugating the human population through mind control. Obviously this doesn't sit well with the humans scientist, who with the help of a sympathetic Exeter attempt to thwart the invasion plans.

This was a film I'd watched several times while still in the single-digits on TV, it didn't scare me with creepy alien paranoia the way that Invaders From Mars did around the same time, seeming a bit more thoughtful than frightful, but it absolutely left it mark on me for sure. I can never quite understand why the film was lumped in with other more hokey 50's sci-fi films, but while watching it again as soon as "mutant" with it's bulbous veiny brain, oversized eyes and pincer claws shows up it became clear again, that's what people remember about this film, that lumbering rubber-suited menace. The film is more than 50's schlock, as Joe Dante says in one of the extras, this movie was "the Star Wars of out time", also noting that it has one of the more poetic sci-fi titles in all of movie history, agreed.

The special effects are seen here are a bit novel by modern standards but the as vintage sci-fi FX from the 50's I found the flying saucers, starfields, images of space and futuristic tech to be quite special all things considered, like stop-motion films of Harryhausen I find these vintage FX quite nostalgic, and here we get meteor impacts, the surface of an alien planet and some wonderful retro tech-of-the-future, the sort of stuff that made my once young mind explode with possibility of science fiction, and it still taps right into that sweet spot today.

Audio/Video: This Island Earth (1955) arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory with a new 4K scan from the interpositive, framed in both
the 1.85:1 widescreen and the original open-matte 1.37:1 formats, and both look absolutely stunning. The grain is well-managed, coming to the forefront is a few scenes more than others, and colors have that vintage technicolor-like vibrancy you remember these films for, the whole thing looks terrific, right from the beginning with that cool-looking starfield.

Audio comes by way of both English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA plus a DTS-HD MA 3.0 Original Perspecta Stereophonic Sound with Optional English Subtitles. I went with the Perspecta mix and it's a real zinger with some fun wide-panning stereo separation, and it gets surprisingly loud at times. Dialogue is crisp and free of distortion, and the magnificent score with contributions from legends Henry Mancini (Lifeforce), Hans J. Salter (The Incredible Shrinking Man) and Herman Stein(It Came From Outer Space) sounds fantastic.

Scream Factory have really packed this vintage sci-fi classic with some supersonic extras, beginning with a pair of brand new audio commentaries from Visual Effects Artist Robert Skotak, and Film Historian David Schecter. There's also a 48-min Ballyhoo Motion Pictures produced documentary about the making of the film with talking heads Joe Dante (Gremlins), C. Courtney Joyner, Bob Burns, Ted Newson, Tom Weaver, Robert Skotak and David Schecter. A solid and super-informative mini-doc with loads of vintage images and clips from the film.

Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash) shows up for a 21-min appreciation of the film, describing seeing the film in Italy when he was nine years-old, going in-depth with a dissection of the film and what he loves about it.

A very cool inclusion are both the 8mm and 16mm black and white home movie versions of the film which were released in 1958, running 11-min. We also get a 3-min Trailers From Hell commentary from Joe Dante.

The disc is buttoned-up with a slideshow describing the technical aspect of the Perspecta Stereophonic Sound, a 2-min trailer plus galleries of Poster And Lobby Cards, Publicity Stills and And Behind-The-Scenes Photos.

The single-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of artwork featuring the original movie poster artwork, on the reverse side there are four more vintage movie posters to look at, it's not a reversible sleeve but the included extra artworks are appreciated.

Special Features:
- NEW 4K Scan Of The Inter-Positive – Two Aspect Ratios: 1.85:1 And 1.37:1
- NEW The Original Perspecta Stereophonic Sound Restored By 3-D Film Archive
- NEW Audio Commentary With Author And Academy Award Winning Visual Effects Artist Robert Skotak
- NEW Audio Interview With Film Historian David Schecter On The Music Of This Island Earth
- NEW Alien Ideas – An Interview With Filmmaker Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash) (21 min) HD
- NEW Facts About Perspecta Stereophonic Sound By Bob Furmanek (10 min) HD
- This Island Earth – Two And A Half Years In The Making: The Extended Documentary – A Look At The Making Of This Island Earth (48 min) HD
- WAR OF THE PLANETS: 1958 Castle Films Release For The Home Market Including Both The 50-Foot Silent Headline Edition And The 200-Foot Sound Complete Edition (11 min) HD
- Trailers From Hell – This Island Earth With Commentary By Filmmaker Joe Dante (3 min)
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) HD
- Still Galleries: Poster And Lobby Cards & min) HD, Publicity Stills (7 min), And Behind-The-Scenes Photos (3 min) HD

Scream Factory's Blu-ray of sci-fi classic This Island Earth (1955) looks and sounds terrific with multiple viewing and audio options, and a wealth of solid extras that are sure to please fans of vintage sci-fi.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

LEPRECHAUN RETURNS (2018) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: Lionsgate
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 93 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen  (1.78:1) 
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Steven Kostanski
Cast: Taylor Spreitler, Pepi Sonuga, Sai Bennett, Emily Reid, Ben McGregor, Linden Porco, Mark Holton

Probably because of my age I've always gravitated to the horror movies from the late-70's and '80, and with what seemed to be a bit of downturn in quality horror offerings in the early 90's I was leaning more towards arthouse, indie and foreign cinema, so when the original Leprechaun (1993) was making the rounds I had absolutely zero interest in or the handful of sequels that followed. I'd seen clips here and there of the films, but strangely it wasn't until Leprechaun Origins (2014) that I dipped my toe into the shamrock stained waters of the franchise, and it was really something awful, reinforcing my negative feelings about the franchise and pushing me even further away from it. 

Then a few years later it was announced that Astron-6's Steven Konstanski (The Void) would be directing a sequel that would ignore all the previous sequels, something that seems to be a a bit of a trend these days. The involvement of Konstanski  was intriguing, but that initial tinge of intrigue quickly turned to trepidation when I discovered it would be a Syfy Original production, and that would debut on the channel, but I still had an interest in it. 

The film takes place 25 years after the events of the first film, a direct sequel with the daughter (Taylor Spreiler, Amityville: The Awakening) of the character played by Jennifer Aniston in the first film returning to the dilapidated house from the first film along with her sorority sisters, and a few of their boyfriends, to transform the rundown home into a solar powered sorority house. 

Their arrival just so happens to coincide with the resurrection of the wisecracking Leprechaun who is bloodily re-birthed in the bowels of the dimwitted Ozzie, played by Mark Holton (the bike-stealing Francis from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure!)returning from the first film. From here the pint-sized Irish-terror sets upon the sorority house in search of his lost pot of gold. The story is no great shakes but it's enough to set-up the ensuing bloodbath at least, and really that's all we need.  

The Leprechaun this time around is played by Linden Porco  (Channel Zero), and it's a cool-looking creation, the demonic Leprechaun make-up is well sculpted with long fingernails, skin that looks like corpse-leather and a set of razor-sharp teeth all make for a visually engaging if not all-together frightening image. Porco's portrayal as the giggling maker of murderous mischief if fun, but a bit too giggly at times maybe, but on par with what I'd expected from the character.

What made this one such a delight for me was the blend of humor and cheesy horror fun, it's stupid but it's not too stupid for it's own good, there's just the right amount of stupidity. Backing that up we have plenty of practical special effects and gore, including the bloody birthing scene at the beginning, a throat-slash via drone, a sorority sister turned into a human blood-sprinkler, and a solar panel splitting someone down the middle from head to toe, it's all good stuff. There's also a nice nod to Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness with a small army of mini-Leprechauns appearing at one point. 

All the characters here are fairly stock one-dimensional caricatures you've seen a bunch in other b-movie slashers, there's even a  pretentious, self-important film student, but like the silly set-up the film does not require much more, and it's just enough to get the bloody-ball rolling, and it's fun watching them killed off, they're likable enough, but they're all fodder for the diminutive double-crossing death-dealer. 

Audio/Video: Leprechaun Returns arrives on Blu-ray from Lionsgate in 1080p HD framed in 1.78:1 widescreen. It's a low-budget but the digital shot films looks solid in HD. Colors are solid and well-saturated, everything is crisp and nicely detailed throughout. Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 that delivers dialogue cleanly with the score and FX coming through nicely, optional English subtitles are included.

Extras include a 20-min featurette with director Steve Konstanski who speaks about his love of the series, shooting the film in South Africa and the practical FX. We also get a still gallery and 4-min of behind-the-scenes footage.

The single-disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork, the same artwork is featured on the slipcover, with the disc featuring artwork that looks to be an homage to The Howling.           

Special Features: 

- Going Green with Director Steven Kostanski (20 min) 
- Leprechaun Returns Behind-the-Scenes Footage (4 min) 
- Still Gallery (4 min) 

I did not come into this made-for-TV sequel expecting very much, that I had such a good time watching it was unexpected. In fact I enjoyed much so that I broke down and ordered the Leprechaun - The Complete Movie Collection on Blu-ray as soon as the credits started rolled. I'm sort of excited to finally give these films a fair shake.