Wednesday, November 30, 2022



Label: Radiance Films
Region Code: A
Duration: 95 Minutes 
Audio: Uncompressed Japanese PCM 2.0 Stereo 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen 
Cast: Koji Tsuruta, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Nobuo Kaneko
Director: Kosaku Yamashita

Considered one of the finest films in Japanese cinema, Big Time Gambling Boss will be available on Limited Edition Blu-ray for the first time on Jan. 3rd, 2023, the initial release from new imprint Radiance Films.

Originally released in 1968, the film was hailed by Paul Schrader as the richest and most complex film of its type, while novelist Yukio Mishima declared it a masterpiece.

The film is set in Tokyo in the thirties, where gang boss Arakawa is ill and a successor must be named. The choice falls on Nakai, but being an outsider he refuses and suggests senior clansman Matsuda instead. But Matsuda is in jail and the elders won't wait for his release, so they appoint the younger and more malleable Ishido to take the reins. Clan honor and loyalties are severely tested when Matsuda is released, resulting in an increasingly violent internal strife.

An atmospheric tale of gangland intrigue written by Kazuo Kasahara (Battles Without Honor and Humanity) and starring Tomisaburo Wakayama (Lone Wolf and Cub, The Bounty Hunter Trilogy), and genre legend Koji Tsuruta, Big Time Gambling Boss is one of the all-time classics of the Yakuza genre. Radiance Films is proud to present this crucial re-discovery for the first time ever on Blu-ray.

Limited Edition Special Features:
- High Definition digital transfer of the film
- Uncompressed mono PCM audio
- Visual essay by genre expert Chris D on the film and its place within the period and genre
- Ninkyo 101: A masterclass with Mark Schilling, author of The Yakuza Movie Book
Gallery of promotional imagery
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by maarko phntm
- Limited edition booklet featuring new writing by author Stuart Galbraith IV, and critic Hayley Scanlon
- Limited edition of 2000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip

Sell Points: 
- First Time Ever on Blu-ray!
- From writer Kazuo Kasahara (Battles Without Honor and Humanity) and director Kôsaku Yamashita (Night Train, Kuroi tsume)
Stars Kôji Tsuruta (Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island), Tomisaburô Wakayama (Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance), Hiroshi Nawa (Three Seconds Before the Explosion) and Nobuo Kaneko (Ikiru)
- 'Big Time Gambling Boss' (aka 'Gambler: The Great Casino' and 'The Big Gambling Ceremony') is the fourth film in the Bakuchi-uchi (Gambler) series, and is regarded as the best of Toei's yakuza films.

Monday, November 28, 2022

TESTAMENT (1983) (Imprint Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Imprint Films (#170)
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: PG 
Duration: 89 Minutes 39 Seconds 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Mono with Optional English subtitles
Director: Lynne Littman
Cast: Jane Alexander, William Devane, Roxana Zal, Lukas Haas, Rebecca De Mornay, Kevin Costner, Ross Harris, Philip Anglim, Lilia Skala, Leon Ames, Lurene Tuttle

The early 80's Cold War-era nuclear holocaust film Testament (1983) focuses on the Wetherly family; loving husband Tom (William Devane, Rolling Thunder), caring wife Carol (Jane Alexander, Kramer vs. Kramer), and their children teenager Brad (Ross Harris, Airplane!), and younger siblings Mary Liz (Roxana Zal, River's Edge), and Scottie (Lukas Haas, Ghost Story), who live in the quiet California suburb of Hamelin outside of San Francisco. They're a tight-knit family and the film's first half sets that up quite nicely with moments between them that make their bond readily apparent. It's on a day like any other that Tom is away on a business trip when their lives are interrupted by a TV broadcast out of San Francisco announcing that nuclear devices have exploded up and down the Eastern seaboard, just before the TV turns to an emergency broadcast signal, cut short by a blinding flash of light of a nuclear explosion in the distance seen through the living room window, the family duck and covering together as air raid sirens go off. In the aftermath there's no electricity or phone service, the community is shut off from the outside world.  

It's an interesting nuclear holocaust film that doesn't offer the usual, more visible, destructive force of the nuclear attack, and while the community of Hamelin seems to have initially escaped an largely unscathed by the brunt of the ICMB attack the film focuses on their struggles to maintain normalcy in the aftermath of nuclear fallout. Interestingly, the film also does not place blame - we do not know where the attack came from, or who initiated the presumed nuclear exchange. 

Director Lynne Littman’s gripping and deeply moving film, based on the 3-page short story "The Last Testament" by Carol Amen, keeps it's focus on the Wetherly family, particularly matriarch Carol (Alexander), as she keeps a journal which we are privy to through narration, as she documents their life post-nuke life. The journal entries are deeply upsetting and paint a dour portrait of a mother who bares witness to the decline of her community and the effects of the nuclear catastrophe on her family as they struggle to survive this nightmarish new reality. There's some occasional looting evidenced but it's low-grade and not the focus, for the most part the community remains optimistic and attempt to maintain normalcy for the sake of the kids, even keeping the school play production of  Pied Piper of Hamelin going. We also spend time with an elderly ham radio operator (Leon Ames, The Absent-Minded Professor) who attempts to keep in touch with the outside world as best he can, and a young couple with a doomed newborn played by a young Rebecca De Mornay (a pre-Risky Business) and Kevin Costner (The Untouchables). 

As the community falls victims to nuclear fallout and the invisible threat radiation sickness sets in the film doesn't focus on the more horrific elements, we are told that over a thousand people in the community have died from radiation sickness but we only see a handful of corpses and a mass funeral pyre at the cemetery. it's quite a tenderly directed film with a maternal eye, which makes it probably more impactful that any scenes of mushroom cloud and charred remains ever could have. I have not seen this film for the better part of 40 years, watching it now as an adult, particaurly as father, it's given even more weight and resonance. When I was a kid it was a nuclear-nightmare, which was a very real concern for me at that age, but as a father this is a whole new level of "what if?" despair, watching this mother bare witness to the decline of her community and children, her hopes and dreams for their futures dwindling as the community withers and dies. 

Audio/Video: Testament (1983) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Imprint Films framed in 1.78:1 widescreen, the transfer prepared by Paramount Pictures. It's an organic and handsome looking transfer with a natural looking filmic presentation; textures and fine detail are pleasing and the colors are warm. Audio comes by way of uncompressed English LPCM 2.0 mono with optional English subtitles. The track is clear and crisp, there are no issues with distortion, and the effecting score by late composer James Horner (Something Wicked This Way Comes) sounds fantastic. 

Imprint carry-over archival extras by way of the Lynne Littman directed Testament at 20 – featurette, which runs about 27 minutes and features a reunion of the child actors Ross Harris, Roxana Zal and Lukas Haas who recount making the film, plus we get the 13-minTestament: Nuclear Thoughts featurette, the 3-min Timeline of the Nuclear Age, and a 1-min Theatrical Trailer

New stuff comes by way of a pair of commentaries, first-up is an Audio commentary by TV Movie expert Amanda Reyes, which is appropriate as the film was originally produced for the PBS series American Playhouse. The second track is an Audio commentary by David J Moore author of World Gone Wild: A Survivors Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies. Both tracks are well-researched and informed, I learned quite a bit about the director, the production, the cast and crew, and other Cold War era post-nuke flicks I never knew before, and it gave me a deeper appreciation for the film, which is cool.  

The single-disc release comes in an oversized clear keepcase with a two-sided but non-reversible sleeve of artwork that looks like a new design. The limited edition slipcover that accompanies it features the original black and white movie poster. 

Special Features:
- 1080p High-definition presentation on Blu-ray
- NEW! Audio commentary by TV Movie expert Amanda Reyes
- NEW! Audio commentary by David J Moore author of World Gone Wild: A Survivors Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies
- Testament at 20 – featurette (27 min) 
- Testament: Nuclear Thoughts – featurette (13 min) 
- Timeline of the Nuclear Age (3 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (1 min) 
- Limited Edition slipcase on the first 1500 copies with unique artwork

Testament (1983) is a harrowing and deeply affecting watch, like the best of the Cold War era nuclear holocaust films it's a gut-punch, and I would rank this gem it right up there with the best of the post-nuke tragedy films like Threads, The Day After and When the Wind Blows

Sunday, November 27, 2022

HEARTLAND OF DARKNESS (1989) (Visual Vengeance Blu-ray Review)

aka Blood Church
aka Fallen Angels 

Label: Visual Vengeance 
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 102 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Full Frame (1.33:1) 
Director: Eric Swelstad
Cast: Nick Baldasare, Linnea Quigley, Dino Tripodis, Shanna Thomas, Sharon Klopfenstein, John Dunleavy

Visual Vengeance are a boutique Blu-ray label dedicated to vintage SOV (shot-on-video) and microbudget films that were made from the 1980s though 2000s. They've unleashed a handful of hard-to-find obscurities thus far, L.A. Aids Jabber being a personal favorite of mine, but with this release they've gone the deepest they've dared dig yet - unleashing a never-before-seen 1989 film starring scream-Linnea Quigley (The Return of the Living Dead), Heartland of Darkness aka Blood Church - a student-film inspired by the Satanic Panic of the 80's that's making it's worldwide debut on any format. 

In it Paul Henson (Dino Tripodis), a former big-city journalist, moves to the small town of Copperton, Ohio with his teen daughter Christy (Sharon Klopfenstein) and takes over the local newspaper, The Chronicle. He hires a small staff including intrepid reporter/love interest Shannon (Shanna Thomas), quickly discovering that life in a small town is anything but ordinary. The first story is about a ritualistic murder were the victim has been dismembered, while the local Sherriff attributes it to a drug cartel, but Henson and Shannon recognize the tell-tales signs of a satanic murder and pursue that lead, discovering that the whole town is under the thrall of the local church's Reverend Donovan (Nick Baldasare, Beyond Dream's Door), a satanic baddie with a flock full of devil-hearted henchmen who don't take kindly to outsiders sticking their nose into his satanic stranglehold on the community.

In true satanic-panic fashion it's never quite clear who you they can trust, it seems that the Rev has his satan's claw into everyone in town, including the seemingly kindly old man who runs the hardware store (who has apparently sacrificed a black cat in the backroom!) and the Christy's sexy and inappropriately dressed school teacher Julia (Linnea Quigley, Nightmare Sisters); and possibly the sheriff and local state politicians! As the story carries on dismembered bodies pile up, they uncover a sacrificial altar in the local quarry, the rev cruises the streets at night decked out in a leather jacket and menacing shades, the new crop of babies at the maternity ward are stolen, and a visiting priest following the trail of the cult, Reverend Kane (John Dunleavy, Beyond Dream's Door) is murdered, plus Paul's super-cute teen daughter is kidnapped, which engages the reporter to grab a shotgun and start kicking some serious satanic ass! 

This is a totally fun low-budget slice of satanic cinema, it's made on a shoestring and it's a bit long in the tooth for what it is - 102 minutes - but I had a great time watching it. Both Quigley and Baldasare are a riot as they chew-up-the-scenery with their over-the-top  satanic villainy, plus there's a ton of Quigley nudity if you're into that sort of thing. The rest of the cast play it pretty straight and I wouldn't say it was well-balanced but it works - it does feel like the student film that it is. Not perfect, but perfectly fine and totally fun. While the gore is not dripping off the screen there's some decent gore when the dismembered bodies are found and it actually conjures up some good, low-budget atmosphere with an action-packed finale.

The film was shot back in 1989 as director Eric Swelstad senior thesis in film school under the original title of Fallen Angels, after the initial filming wrapped the director fell short on funds and was never able to complete post-production work. Despite some false starts in getting additional funding and distribution through the years it would not be until microbudget saviors Wild Eye Releasing stepped up to the plate and helped get the project finished, and are now releasing it for the first time ever through their deluxe boutique sub-label Visual Vengeance. It's a bit sad that this did not get a proper release years ago but it's also very cool that a film that languished unfinished and unseen for over thirty years has now finally been unleashed upon the cult movie community, and in a pretty spiffy deluxe edition. 

Audio/Video: Heartland of Darkness (1989) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Visual Vengeance with a "New director-supervised SD master from original tape and film elements". The film was originally shot on 16mm and looks to have been transferred to SD video, and for a shot-on-video production from the late-80's this looks pretty fantastic. It's got the usual SOV issues like fuzzy edges and whatnot but colors look strong and details are far superior to what I am use to seeing with anything shot SOV. Audio comes by way of Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English
subtitles. It sounds quite clean and well-balanced, it's not dynamic by any means but by the standards of other vintage SOV the fidelity is pretty great.  

Visual Vengeance pack this gem with the extras starting off with a pair of audio commentaries;  the first with an Audio Commentary with director Eric Swelstad, star Nick Baldasare, cinematographer Scott Spears and composer Jay Wolfe, then a second Audio Commentary with Tony Strauss of Weng's Chop Magazine. There's also a 39-min Deeper Into the Darkness: New Behind-The-Scenes Documentary featuring director Eric Swelstad, Associate Producer Thomas Baumann, star Nick Baldasare, cinematographer Scott Spears and composer Jay Wolfe, which tells the tale of this 30-year in the making satanic panic gem, plus we get the 6-min Linnea Quigley Remembers: 2021 Interview in which she recalls making the film, and how this is a film that her fans have long asked her about, seeing it on her IMDB but until now, being unable to actually find it anywhere.  

We also get a 20-min Linnea Quigley Vintage Local News Interview which looks like it was sourced from VHS; a 13-min Behind-the-Scenes Image Gallery; a pair of 
Heartland of Darkness Trailers; the  37-min Complete Original “Fallen Angels” 1990 Workprint Version; a 21-min 
The Making of Fallen Angels - Vintage Cast & Crew Newscast Interviews; 1-min Fallen Angels - Vintage TV Spot; 13-min Blood Church – Rare Distributor Promotional Video; 3-min Behind-the-Scenes: Reverend Donovan's Death;
and a Fantasy Magazine - Director Spotlight.

The single-disc release arrives in clear keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring a new illustration as well as the original Blood Church promotional artwork. Inside there's a Six-page Booklet with liner notes by Tony Strauss of Weng’s Chop Magazine, the illustrated liner notes set the time and place for the satanic panic, and of how director Eric Swelstad filming this as his film school senior thesis, and how it took thirty years to finally finish. There's also some other cool ephemera like a frame-worthy Collectible Linnea Quigley Folded Mini-Poster, a ‘Stick Your Own’ VHS Sticker Set, and a Limited Edition Heartland of Darkness “Prayer Cloth” - which might be the coolest packaging extra yet from Visual Vengeance.  The first pressing of this release also includes a Limited Edition Slipcase with it's own unique artwork, which is pretty cool, looking a bit like it could have been an 80's metal album cover. The disc inside features the same artwork as the limited edition slip. 

Special Features:
- First time available in any format
- New Director-Supervised SD Master from Original Tape and Film Elements
- Deeper Into the Darkness: New Behind-The-Scenes Documentary (39 min) 
- Audio Commentary with director Eric Swelstad, star Nick Baldasare, cinematographer Scott Spears and composer Jay Wolfe
- Audio Commentary with Tony Strauss of Weng's Chop Magazine 
- Linnea Quigley Remembers: 2021 Interview (6 min) 
- Linnea Quigley Vintage Local News Interview (20 min) 
- Behind-the-Scenes Image Gallery. (13 min) 
- Heartland of Darkness - Original Trailer 1 (2 min) 
- Heartland of Darkness - Original Trailer 2 (2 min) 
- Complete Original “Fallen Angels” 1990 Workprint Version  (37 min) 
- The Making of Fallen Angels - Vintage Cast & Crew Newscast Interviews (21 min) 
- Fallen Angels - Vintage TV Spot (1 min) 
- Blood Church – Rare Distributor Promotional Video (13 min) 
- Behind-the-Scenes: Reverend Donovan's Death (3 min) 
- Fantasy Magazine - Director Spotlight
- Six-page Booklet with liner notes by Tony Strauss of Weng’s Chop Magazine
- Limited Edition Heartland of Darkness “Prayer Cloth”
- Limited Edition slipcase - First Pressing Only 
- Collectible Linnea Quigley folded mini-poster
- ‘Stick your own’ VHS sticker set
- Deeper Into Darkness Trailer (57 sec) 
- Visual Vengeance Trailers: Asylum of Darkness (1 min), Vampires and Other Stereotypes (1 min), Scream Queen (44 sec), Heartland of Darkness (2 min) 

This is one of my favorite releases yet from Visual 
Vengeance, a solid never-before-released, low-budget satanic shocker with a terrific backstory and a ton of heart. If you have small town satanic horror flicks like Enter the Devil (1972) or Hack-O-Lantern (1988) on your shelf I think there's definitely room in heart for this nearly-lost, shot-on-video gem - highly recommended.  

Screenshots from the Visual Vengeance Blu-ray: