Sunday, October 31, 2021

THE AMAZING MR. X (1948) (The Film Detective Blu-ray Review)


Label: The Film Detective
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 78 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Dual-Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Full Frame (1.33:1)
Director: Bernard Vorhaus
Cast: Turhan Bey, Lynn Bari, Cathy O'Donnell

From Out of the Surf It Came ... A Familiar Voice ... A Voice That Belonged to the Afterlife!

The Amazing Mr. X stars Turhan Bey (The Mummy's Tomb) as a crooked spiritualist medium named Alexis, a man who claims to have the power to communicate with spirits from beyond the grave. He appears one night on a lonely stretch of beach, accompanied by the sounds of a laughing crow,  and charms depressed widow Christine (Lynn Bari, Abbot Costello Meet the Keystone Kops), whose husband Paul (Donald Curtis, It Came from Beneath the Sea) died two year previously in a car accident. She now has a new beau who wants very much to marry her, Richard Carlson (The Valley of Gwangi), but she is still very much in love with her late husband, and often hears his voice calling her name as she overlooks the ocean waves from the veranda of her cliffside mansion. 

When her younger sister Janet  (Cathy O'Donnell, The World Dies Screaming) and Richard find out she has begun frequenting the séance parlor of Alexis they assume, and rightfully so, that he's a scam artist looking to milk her for her fortune. Eventually Janet visits him under false pretenses, but she becomes quite smitten with the charming mystic and lays her worry aside. The clear-eyed Richard however is less willing to do so and sets out to expose the medium for a fraud. 

As the melancholy thriller unfolds a murder plot is revealed with the medium being roped into it by a sinister outside element that presents itself in an unexpected way. Alexis, already established to be a charlatan with many clever parlor tricks to pull off his supernatural conjurings,  is never quite made to be an unrepentant villain, and is portrayed quite romantically, and he even gets a bit of bitter redemption there at the end. Lynn Bari is quite good in her role as tormented widow, she comes across as haunted from the get-go and only spirals deeper into that darkness as the story continues.  Cathy O'Donnell as the smitten younger sister is a sparkplug, and then we have Richard Carlson as the stand-up love interest for Christine, with another nice addition being Det. Hoffman, a former magician turned cop who has a real chip on his shoulder to expose the Svengali medium as a fraud.  

The stylish off-kilter cinematography from John Alton (The Big Combo) offers striking angles and deep shadows, that combined with deft direction by Bernard Vorhaus (Bury Me Dead) delivers a truly suspense filled and sinister flick with a melancholic vibe that makes this a gem of a supernatural leaning thriller. If you're a fan of the expressive atmospheric 
thrillers of producer Val Lewton (Curse of the Cat People, The Seventh Victim) I think you're gonna love this one, definitely check it out. 

Audio/Video: The Amazing Mr. X arrives on region-free Blu-ray from The Film Detective in 1080p HD in 1.33:1 full frame with a handsome 4K restoration from original 35mm film elements.  It's a gorgeous film with gauzy, dreamlike cinematography from John Alton (The Big Combo) that adds a dreamy layer to the noir visuals. However, the image on the Blu-ray is a tad soft with anemic black levels and weak contrast on top of that. Not sure of this is a source related with baked in issues, but there's also a few scenes that are snowy with digital noise as well. Not the strongest 1080p image you will ever see but it is serviceable, and far superior to previous DVDs, but definitely the least of the The Films Detective restoration Blu-rays I have see to date.   

Audio comes by way of both uncompressed English DTS-HD MA 2.0 dual-mono and Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles. Like the video it is imperfect but adequate, sounding vintage and limited in it's range the higher registers of the Alexander Laszlo (Beast from Haunted Cave) can be a bit shrill, and there's some light noise on the track as well, but dialogue is never a chore to decipher.  

Extras include a new audio commentary from professor and film scholar Jason A. Ney which gets into the cast and production, particularly star Turhan Bey and the cinematography of C. Alton. We also get the 20-min  Mysteries Exposed: Inside the Cinematic World of Spiritualism, a new original documentary from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures that explores Hollywood's history of spiritual mediums with Courtney C, Joyner and author Lisa Morton. 

The single-disc release arrives in a black keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the original illustrated movie poster. Inside there's a 10-page illustrated booklet with an essay, “The Amazing Mr. Bey,” by Don Stradley that gets into the career of mysterious "exotic" star Turhan Bey.

Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary from professor and film scholar Jason A. Ney 
- 10-Page Illustrated Collector's Booklet with essay, “The Amazing Mr. Bey,” by Don Stradley 
- Mysteries Exposed: Inside the Cinematic World of Spiritualism, an original documentary from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures (20 min) 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER (1958) (The Film Detective Blu-ray Review)


Label: The Film Detective
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 85 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Dual-Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Richard E. Cunha
Cast: John Ashley, Sandra Knight, Donald Murphy, Felix Locher, Sally Todd, John Zaremba, Wolfe Barzell, Harold Lloyd Jr., Harry Wilson

Frankenstein’s Daughter (1950) looks to have been made to cash on on the 50's youth market and the popularity of Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) which came out the year before. This has more in common with a 50's beach party movie than with either Mary Shelley's iconic creation or the Hammer derivative, but the low-budget b-movie has some mad doc charms and some gruesome imagery that should appeal to lovers of shabby vintage horror. 

In it we have Dr. Oliver Frank (Donald Murphy), a descendant
of the notorious Dr. Frankenstein, who is working as an assistant to the elderly Dr. Morton (Felix Locher, Curse of the Faceless Man), who is seeking to cure all human ailment in his suburban Los Angeles basement laboratory. Unknown to the elderly doc Frank is only working with him so that he can have access to his lab in the after hours, to work on not only one, but two different 'Frankenstein' experiments of his own. Frank is following in his grandfather's mad science footsteps, with the help of a grizzled handyman Elsu (Wolfe Barzell, Bell Book and Candle). At night he drugs the doc's daughter Trudy (Sandra Knight, The Terror) and slips her some of his evil elixir which temporarily turns her into a goggle-eyed monster with gnarly buck-teeth! Simultaneously, he's stitching together a more traditional Frankenstein out of body parts, but he still needs a brain. 

To that end, when a date with Trudy's sexy free-spirited  friend Sally (Playboy Playmate Suzie Lawler) doesn't go all the way he runs her down with his car and transplants her brain into his freakish Frankenstein creature, which he uses to kill those who might spoil his continued experiments. Eventually he double-crosses doc Morton which takes him out of the picture, but Trudy and her boyfriend Johnny (John Ashley, The Twilight People)  get wise and faceoff against the mad scientist and his monstrous creation with a fun acid-flinging finale. 

At first blush Frankenstein's Daughter (1958) is a hot piece of late-50's trash, and it is, but it's pretty charming and fun taken on it's own. It's also pretty gruesome for a film of this vintage, from the bucktoothed monstrosity that Judy turns into on and off again to the hideous scarred visage of "Frankenstein's Daughter", played by a man (Harry Wilson, One Million B.C.) covered nearly head to toe and wearing a fireman's jacket (?) with it's head wrapped in bandages. It's black and white but if you look close at his scarred face you can see there's some smeared lipstick applied, you know, because it's got a woman's brain after all! 

Monsters aside the best part of this flick is our mad doc Donald Murphy Dr. Oliver Frank, he looks to be having a great time playing the baddie, and he is delightfully evil. A  self aggrandizing ego-maniac who is nothing but arch-eyebrowed evil from the get-go, absolutely stealing every scene he's in. Some of the sexual politics of definitely 50's cringe, like when Dr. Frank takes Sally parking, and just when it gets hot and heavy she tries to cool things down a bit, very politely I might ad, with frustrated doc retorting "hey, you agreed to park here with me!", before threatening to kill her and then doing just that! 

Back to the special effects there's a pretty gruesome acid-thrown-in-face gore-gag late in the film that's pretty great and we even get a dismembered hand making an appearance. This coming pre Herschel Gordon Lewis (Blood Feast) and more gore-tastic 60's fare it must have been a but unsettling to the theater goers of the era. A totally fun bit of schlock with genuine gruesome elements that makes for a fun weekend watch' it's definitely better than it has any right to be, and it's just the right amount of cinema-fromage to please the MST3K crowd. 

Frankenstein's Daughter arrives on region-free Blu-ray from The Film Detective in 1080p HD framed in 1.85:1 widescreen. The source elements are in great shape, the only blemishes of note were some white speckling, otherwise a fine looking scan with organic looking grain levels and pleasing contrast throughout, a solid presentation. 

Audio comes by way of uncompressed English DTS-HD MA 2.0 dual-mono with optional English  subtitles. Dialogue is never hard to decipher and the score from Nicholas Carras (Missile to the Moon) sounds great, as do the tunes from the band Page Cavanaugh and His Trio seen in the film. 

Extras kick-off with an audio commentaries with author and historian Tom Weaver, whose commentary includes interviews snippets with filmmaker Larry Blamire and writer Steven Cronenberg, plus other delightful audio snippets from Monstrous Movie Music's David Schecter n the score, Henry Thomas who did make-up on the film talking about the monster make-up controversy, plus horror host Robert Kokai, of Drac and Countess Carita, reading from the film's press book. This is a great track with lots of laughs, production stories and interesting takes on the flick. 

We also get the 36-minute Richard E. Cunha: Filmmaker of the Unknown, which is a new retrospective from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, featuring an archival interview with the famed director who was sent a series of interview questions by fan Tom Weaver in 1983. The director surprised Weaver by sending him a VHS taped video replying to his interview questions from the mall video store he operated, called Video Depot, which is so cool. This featurette is that interview edited with stills and images and it's my favorite extras on the disc. It covers his early life, the making of Missile to the Moon, Giant from the Unknown, She Demons, and Frankenstein's Daughter. 

We also get the 10-minute John Ashley: Man from the B’s, a new career retrospective featuring film historian C. Courtney Joyner, who charts Ashley's arc from teen movie star in Beach movies to famed TV producer (The A-Team), with a bunch of Filipino exploitation films with Eddie Romero (Mad Doctor of Blood Island) and producing Apocalypse Now somewhere in the middle. . 

The single-disc release arrives in a black keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the original illustrated movie poster, which does good work showcasing the 50's cheese your about to ingest with your eyeballs. Inside there's a 10-page illustrated booklet with writing on the film from film scholar Tom Weaver 

Special Features:
- Audio commentary with author and historian Tom Weaver
- 10-Page Collector's Booklet with original essay by Weaver
- Richard E. Cunha: Filmmaker of the Unknown, a new retrospective from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, featuring an archival interview with the famed director (36 min) 
- John Ashley: Man from the B’s, a new career retrospective featuring film historian C. Courtney Joyner (10 min) 

Good to see another terrific bad flick gets the deluxe treatment from The Film Detective with a superior A/V presentation, attractive packaging and some truly excellent extras - it's pretty much everything a lover of shabby vintage horror cinema could ask for, and then some. 

Screenshots from The Film Detective Blu-ray: 


Friday, October 29, 2021

RETRIBUTION (1987) (Severin Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Severin Films
Region Code: Region Free
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 109 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Guy Magar 
Cast: Dennis Lipscomb, Leslie Wing, Suzanne Snyder, Jeff Pomerantz, George Murdock, Pamela Dunlap

Set in L.A. the 1987 film Retribution (1987) was the feature-film debut of TV director Guy Magar (Stepfather 3) which opens with struggling artist George Miller (Dennis Lipscomb, Eyes of Fire) throwing himself off the roof of the seedy hotel he calls home. Miraculously he survives not only the leap but the sudden stop at the bottom, owing to the fact that when he was at death's door an angry blue-faced entity entered his body. After convalescing at the hospital he is briefly sent to a psychiatric center under the watch of psychologist Jennifer Curtis (Leslie Wing, The Frighteners). While there he's plagued by visions of a group of faceless killers murdering an unknown man, but the well-meaning shrink assures him these horrible dreams are just his mind working through his issues, and releases him with regular check-ins to follow.  

After being released he returns to the motel and attempts to get back into the swing of things, even striking up a relationship with another tenant of the hotel, the fresh-faced happy-hooker Angel (Suzanne Snyder, Weird Science). He seems happy for a bit, however, he begins to unravel when he begins dreaming of murdering a series of strangers, only to read in the newspaper the next day to see that the victims in his dreams have been brutally slain in real life. 

As the dreams intensify he finds himself drawn to people and places he doesn't know, and he begins to think that he could be possessed by the vengeful spirit of a murdered hoodlum named Vito (Mike Muscat, Terminator 2: Judgement Day), who was himself horrifically shot and then set on fire the very same night George attempted suicide; in fact, they were both born on the same day, April Fool's Day, their stories somehow supernaturally entwined. While Dr. Curtis doesn't believe George could be a murderer her colleague and lover Dr. Falconer (Jeff Pomerantz, Savage Weekend) has no qualms about dropping a dime on George after learning about his dreams. The doc alerts detective Lt. Ashley (a poorly cast Hoyt Axton, Gremlins) to him as a potential suspect, citing his increasingly erratic behavior and incriminating knowledge of the horrific murders. 

Retribution is a cool and gory riff on post-Exorcist possession films with some gruesome murder set-pieces that truly stand apart, including a bad-ass fire stunt, a disemboweling, acetylene torch dismemberment, an inventive face smash, and the best of the bunch - a buzz saw gag at a meat packing plant with the still live victim stuffed inside a cow carcass! Additionally the glowing green-eyed possession looks pretty cool (if a bit cartoony) but it's plenty entertaining, and the look of the film some cool 80's garish colored lighting and strobing effects that I just ate up with a spoon, plus the L.A. locations are so dang scuzzy, it sort of feels like a New York film in that way.  

The one negative might be that it's a tad on the long for what it is but it does give us a chance to get to know the plentiful side characters a bit, from the colorful hotel regulars to a Rastafarian voodoo doc who gets more than he bargains for when he tries to exorcise Georgie or his evil. Lipscomb, who more of a character actor, is solid as the suicidal artist who has become an unwitting instrument of evil. His portrayal is anguished and sympathetic, he plays depressed and pathetic well enough and then cranks up the unhinged green-eyed alter-ego with telekinetic powers with a real ferocity when needed, he carries the whole film with some help from a solid cast of supporting characters. 

Retribution is a true 80's gem waiting for you to discover it, chock full of seedy atmosphere and gory set pieces, plus a bizarre possession angle that gets more intense right up till the bat-shit final sprint to the finish line. This is a solidly entertaining flick well-worth seeking out.  

Audio/Video: Retribution (1987) arrives on 3-disc Blu-ray/CD from Severin Films scanned in 2K from recently discovered pre-print elements, framed in 1.85:1 widescreen in 1080p HD. Its a fine looking scan of elements that are in generally great shape. There are a few brief moments when scartched and some minor damage pops-up but this is a generally pleasing presentation with a lot of surreal lighting and neon colors that looks terrific. Below you will find a comparison to the now out-if-print Code Red Blu-ray from 2017, which was cropped to 1.78:1. The Severin release is framed in 1.85:1 and looks more organic and filmic, and notably the colors are richer and more saturated with much warmer skintones and a considerably less blue saturation which allows for some truer whites to emerge. The fresh scan also benefits from an uptick in depth, clarity and contrast that refreshes the film, this is definitely the best the film has ever looked on home video; it's brighter, the color-grading more nuanced, and there's more information in the frame. 

Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo with optional English subtitles. Dialogue is never a chore to discern and the electronic synth  score from Carpenter collaborator Alan Howarth (Prince of Darkness) sounds fantastic.

Most of the extras are housed on the first disc, kicking off with an archival commentary with Magar that first appeared on the Code Red DVD and Blu-ray releases. Then into a ton of new interviews, beginning with the 12-min Writing Wrongs: Interview With Co-Writer Lee Wasserman who talks about meeting director Magar, how this film was inspired by The Exorcist and how they spun it into a unique variation, and we get some some solid tales about the making of this film.

Up next is the 8-min Shock Therapy: Interview With Actress Leslie Wing, who gets into transitioning from stage to screen, stories from the set and working with the cast. The 7-min Angel’s Heart: Interview With Actress Suzanne Snyder features the starlet discussing her early career, being cast in Retribution, and how much she loved and looked up to Magar and Lipscomb. 

The 9-min Santa Maria, Mother Of God, Help Me!: Interview With Actor Mike Muscat has the star discussing his career as a character actor, getting into acting while enlisted in the army. Settling The Score: Interview With  Soundtrack Composer Alan Howarth is an 8-minute piece with the respected composer discussing his style of composing, developing themes for the film, and working with Magar. Visions Of Vengeance: Interview With Special Effects Artist John Eggett is a 7-minute interview with Eggett getting into his philosophy of no one getting hurt on a set, collaborating with Magar and how specific gore-gags seen in the film were achieved. 

The 6-min The Art Of Getting Even: Interview With Artist Barry Fahr who talks about his early career during the punk movement, working for Cannon Films, and his work on Retribution. The last of the interviews is the 10-minute Living In Oblivion: Interview With Production Designer Robb Wilson King, he gets into working for Roger Corman, working with Magar, designing the cool neon art gallery for the film, and some info about that Easter Island stone head seen in the film. Disc one is buttoned up with Magar's Student Short 'Bingo' with optional commentary from the director; a 2-min Trailer, and a 2-min Stills & Poster Gallery with various posters, home video releases and promotional still. 

Onto disc two we have the slightly longer Extended Dutch Video Release Version which is about 8-secs longer than the R-rated cut, this is sourced from the same excellent new scan as the R-rated cut with standard-definition gore inserts that were cut to get the R-rating. There's also a brand new audio commentary with directory Guy Magar moderated by Severin's David Gregory, which is pretty great. Gregory steers the director towards facets and things not covered by Magar on his solo R-rated cut commentary. Disc three is the Alan Howarth CD soundtrack containing the 14-song soundtrack that clocks in at 54-minutes. 

The 3-disc release arrives with a sleeve of reversible artwork and a slipcover that features displayable artwork on both the front and back. Inside there's a 34-page illustrated collector's booklet that features a new introduction from director Guy Magar, plus some lengthy excerpts from his book "Kiss Me Quick Before I Shoot' that cover shooting Retribution. There's also an essay and track by track breakdown of the score by writer Randall D Larson that is reprinted from the 2015 soundtrack re-release, plus a track list for the CD. Severin have really knocked it out of the park with this extra-stuffed 3-disc edition, so I hope this gem finds some broader appreciation with this stunning release, clearly Severin love it. 


Special Features:
- Two Versions: Theatrical Cut Version + Extended Dutch Video Release Version
- Audio Commentary With Co-Writer/Director Guy Magar
- Writing Wrongs: Interview With Co-Writer Lee Wasserman (12 min) 
- Shock Therapy: Interview With Actress Leslie Wing (8 min) 
- Angel’s Heart: Interview With Actress Suzanne Snyder (7 min) 
- Santa Maria, Mother Of God, Help Me!: Interview With Actor Mike Muscat (9 min)
- Settling The Score: Interview With  Soundtrack Composer Alan Howarth (8 min) 
- Visions Of Vengeance: Interview With Special Effects Artist John Eggett (7 min) 
- The Art Of Getting Even: Interview With Artist Barry Fahr (6 min) 
- Living In Oblivion: Interview With Production Designer Robb Wilson King (10 min)
- BINGO: Student Short By Guy Magar With Optional Director Commentary (2 min) 
- Trailer (2 min) 
- Stills & Poster Gallery (2 min) 
- Bonus: CD Soundtrack (14 Songs, 54 Minutes) 
- Sleeve of Reversible Artwork

Severin's 3-disc edition is a celebration of this violent supernatural shocker; a true gory gem that's largely gone unheralded for years and is in need of some fresh eyes on it. If you're looking for a cool underseen 80's slice of terror definitely check it out, you won't regret it!  

Blu-ray Screenshot Comparison:
Top: Code Red Blu-ray 1.78:1 (2017) 
Bottom: Severin Blu-ray 1.85:1 (2021)

More Severin Blu-ray Screenshots: