Friday, March 21

Some quick thoughts on Raiders of the Doomed Kingdom (1985)

.
A band of Thai mercenaries embark on one last mission to save a general after the Fall of Saigon. Posing as Chinese Red Guard, they infiltrate a compound and regain the general only to be given chase. Racing to the shore, while picking up several female soldiers, they escape on a fishing boat with their pursuers in toe. The jungle island both parties reach happens to be a leper colony, and while the horribly disfigured inhabitants are friendly, they become pawns in the ensuing battle. Now the mercs must dig in for their lives against a Red Guard commander who just doesn't relent.

Joseph Lai's International Finance Development Films & Arts is a Hong Kong production company known among trash aficionados for their streak of '80s kung fu, ninja, and action flicks. The studio's output was so cheaply made that scenes were often liberally "borrowed" between several films. To stretch their dollar, minimal new footage was then shot and built around this pre-existing material. Although sometimes different territories saw different versions of the same film tailored to their region. The studio likely assumed their generic pap screened in dime theaters all ran together. Who's going to notice that same throwing star fight repeated across three flicks anyway?    

Raiders of the Doomed Kingdom is one of their action productions which are always delightfully nonsensical and extra exploitative. Just to get this out of the way, the already shaky story falls apart after they reach the island and the characters essentially fall into either good or bad guys. Our lead, Sergeant Cobra (Sorapong Chatree), is only that due to being more well kept than the other good guys. Everyone being terribly dubbed also doesn't help performances.

The production feels larger in scope than other IFD flicks, with several impressive sequences, including protesters storming the U.S. Embassy in Saigon and hundreds of defectors trying to leave. To this end, writer Godfrey Ho tries to use what at least sounds factual to the period in history. Ho also infuses some political sentiment with a sour depiction of the nationalities involved, including Americans, except for the Thai mercs. In a surprising showing of gender equality, a pair of women soldiers are given the final showdown with the Red Guard commander instead our male hero. Cobra instead fights a trader within his troop, but I'm still unsure at which point the guy turned bad among the incoherence of the final reel.

Of course, most aren't going to give a shit about these aspects, and instead focus on how brutal Raiders frequently is. We get disturbing newsreel of Vietnam atrocities, bodies mowed down, jungle traps, decapitations, knife fights, and even an overlong and rather graphic scene of cunnilingus. Raw mayhem substituting for plot is something IFD specialized in. Almost as if the studio was trying to make up to viewers who tried to apply logic. Finally, as a callback to IFD's cost-cutting, when the droning score quiets, pieces stolen from First Blood (1982), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), and Tenebre (1982) are heard.

There's only a few VHS releases of the movie worldwide. Amazingly a U.S. VHS release is floating around, from "Atlantic Film & Video", but it's very scarce. The Danish, Finnish, Greek, and Japanese also saw English-language tapes, but the Finnish is severely edited. Both the Greek and Japanese releases are also in 1.85:1 widescreen. I have the North American and Greek (pictured below), both appear uncut, with the Japanese arriving shortly. I'll post my findings/impressions upon receiving it.



Monday, March 3

Some quick thoughts on Adam Chaplin (2011)


After the horrific immolation of his wife at the hands of disfigured mob boss Denny (Chiara Marfella), Adam Chaplin (Emanuele De Santi) calls upon the dark to assist in his quest for vengeance. With the aid of a demonic cherub that spawns from his back, and the superhuman strength it grants, nothing will stand in the way of his revenge.

Originally, I was going to talk about the state of slow decline and then immediate death of Italian horror cinema over the past thirty years. Yet with Adam Chaplin all that bittersweet history doesn't really matter because despite being of Italian origin, it bears little resemblance to the country's previous horror output. It's something more akin to the hyper-gory anime Fist of the North Star occurring in the world of Hobo with a Shotgun in Italian language.

Aside from fountains of grue, Chaplin's most impressive aspect is how director De Santi, who filled most of the production's roles, conceals the budget with technology unavailable at this level of filmmaking a relatively short time ago. Much digital image manipulation was employed to hide the smallness of sets while minimal CG acts as enhancement to the practical effects without replacing the abundance of gore. In contrast, fellow Italian Massimiliano Cerchi relied so much on terrible graphics with his Flight to Hell (2003) that it might be the worst horror film to ever come from the country.

The screenplay, also by De Santi, wisely chooses to give background to the characters of Adam and Denny. This adds weight to their feud; however, there's still many questions, like Denny's own dark pact, and the film's post-apocalyptic world remaining unexplored. Adam's demonic companion, an imp insidiously driving his bloodlust, is a great touch that's again short on any answers. Though this lack of explanation isn't crippling since everything plays like the pages of a pissed off indie comic book.

The gore effects are the biggest attraction as Adam's flesh-shredding strength leaves faces brutally dismantled and limbs ripped asunder. An apparently new blood polymer was created for the film with much more "sling" on impact, so splat blooms look less watery while never approaching reality. If you're a gorehound, you'll love this mayhem, but the parallels to the gory battles in Fist of North Star border on theft. Many of the action shots are lifted wholesale from the anime series. This wasn't by chance as short clips from the anime are seen in the DVD's supplements.

So Adam Chaplin isn't some grand return of Italian horror. It's just a lot of fun that's more interested in the ride than specifics. The self-billing as "goriest movie ever" is debatable though. I'd still consider Peter Jackson's Braindead (Dead Alive) (1992) as the pinnacle of gory wizardry. The attention to character development pushes this one among the best splatter flicks I've seen along with The Story of Ricky (1991) and Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone (2001). The clearly passionate De Santi might impress further with a more ample budget and it'll be interesting to see if he works with production company Necrostorm again.

Wednesday, February 26

The Lost Boys (1987) - 1987 Warner Home Video Japan VHS


Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys wasn't a film I immediately warmed to. I didn't see it until Warner released their first DVD edition in 1998 being a Christmas present that same year. At the time, I was still fairly new to the horror genre and voraciously renting classics I had read about in Michael Weldon's must-own Psychotronic Video Guide To Film. It was also then that I was discovering Christopher Lee's iconic turns as Dracula. So this contemporary '80s take on vampire lore was a victim of timing. The fifteen-year-old me couldn't see reasoning behind the praise while lost in the gothic majesty of Hammer productions.

Eventually Lost Boys proved itself a classic in subsequent viewings as an evolutionary step in horror comedies. Enduring qualities of the vamp subgenre are respected and balanced with slick levity and teenage awareness absent in prior major studio meldings like The Goonies (1985). The young cast does an excellent job, and what seemed the norm for its decade, the screenplay crafts characters that feel realistic regardless of their ages. A shame Schumacher didn't return to horror until 2009's Blood Creek (thoughts here).

This Warner VHS from Japan is fairly common, just like their US tape, but I figured I'd share. The seller claimed it was dubbed in Japanese, but probably only watched the couple Japanese previews in the beginning. The cropped full screen feature is in English with small Japanese subtitles. At least on VHS/Beta, I don't believe Warner released this dubbed. This copy has no fading to its sleeve, making it a decent find, since blues and reds bleached out quickly once these old rental editions found swap meet sunshine.

Thursday, February 20

Some quick thoughts on Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987)

.
Andy Sidaris spent nearly an entire career trying to crack the Enigma Code of '80s action cinema. By distilling bankable elements of the genre, like big bosoms with big guns and buff brodudes with even bigger guns, he cranked out a succession of steamy actioners custom built for heavy weekend rentals. The filmmaker also did something a bit differently with casting, much to the chagrin of feminists, the women weren't just sexbombs but fiercely independent leads to the men orbiting around them. Though this may have hurt profitability since the lack of any male marquee names to plaster on covers might have led renters to thumb past for the latest Stallone or Van Damme effort.

Hard Ticket to Hawaii could be called the third film in the Sidarius saga proper, after Seven (1985) and Malibu Express (1986), that saw the director active nearly every year until his last film in 1998. While transporting an incredibly deadly python by plane, two stunning DEA agents in Hawaii, Sidaris regulars Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton, run afoul of diamonds destined for a local coke lord. After the kingpin discovers the missing cargo, the pair get pressed hard but manage to escape and team up with two male agents to raid the entire operation...and take down that pissed biological weapon of a snake.

It has all the director's staples; babes, boobs, muscly dudes, guns, bigger guns, explosions, and picturesque locales. Do these aspects automatically make a good action film? Not quite, Hard Ticket is still fairly crappy, getting too bogged in the mechanics of its simple story. Although it's pleasingly self-aware, never taking anything seriously, and therein lies the vibe that make Sidaris' films so likable. They know their purpose in the action lexicon and only aim to mindlessly entertain.

The breezy, carefree atmosphere and beauty everywhere smooth the uneven pace until the action picks up. Funny one-liners and goofball detours, like a razor-rimmed frisbee and bazooka meeting a blow-up doll, really make Hard Ticket worth seeing. Sidaris even cameos as a scuzzy TV producer that's immediately accused of nearly raping one of the busty female characters before becoming preoccupied with a waitress's breasts. All in stupid fun.  

The VHS pictured, originally straight from Sidaris' own Malibu Bay Films, is quite interesting. Most promotional screeners were sent out to video stores in an attempt to sell copies for rental. Meaning distribution deals were already struck and it was only a matter of moving home video product. This unique screener is pre-distribution of any kind and was sent out in the hopes of gaining theatrical exhibition. The back description makes the VHS out to be only three-minutes long, but the theatrical trailer, several teasers (dated 3/2/87), and complete film with timecode is included. The video quality is quite dark, however; this might have been done on purpose just in case copies leaked. The tape's video signal totally drops in between the trailer and teasers. Another dropout occurs exactly one hour into the feature with the video popping in again immediately for the last half hour. The film appears to the same "official" ninety-six minute version seen on retail VHS and DVD.



Saturday, February 15

Some quick thoughts on Rewind This! (2013)

.
From the back: "In the 1980s, videotape changed the world and laid the foundation for modern media culture. Rewind This! traces the rise and fall of VHS from its heyday as the mainstream home video format to its current status as a nostalgic relic and prize to collectors who still cherish it. Featuring interviews with both filmmakers and enthusiasts from the VHS era, including Troma legend Lloyd Kaufman, indie auteur Atom Egoyan, and Hobo with a Shotgun filmmaker Jason Eisener, Rewind This! is the definitive story of the format that came to be synonymous with the home video revolution. So gather up your friends and start the pizza party - just make sure to have your tapes back on time."

I've been quite conflicted over this review. Being passionate about VHS has me wanting to find some profound criticism over a documentary covering a wide variety of aspects of the format's history and current subculture. However; Josh Johnson's scattershot Rewind This! is sadly a letdown. None of the topics are explored to any in-depth extent, lending to a presentation that seems targeted to those who're just amazed there's any interest in the video relic today.

Being comprised solely of interviews, one gets the impression it was a struggle to snitch responses together as they often don't quite follow the topic at hand. At one turn, we're hearing ninja flicks on Hong Kong tapes from Japanese producer Yoshinori Chiba and then director Frank Henenlotter bitching about aspect ratios in a loose portion about distributor oddities during the video boom. While never uninteresting, this approach makes everything seem unfocused with information that could help round out each portion never presented. A host might have smoothed this persistent issue, maybe something in a cheap shot-on-video vein like Cameron Mitchell's goofy appearance in Terror on Tape (1983).

Hardly any time is devoted to the VHS vs. Betamax war and it's boiled down to recording time. While that was a factor, the time it's given in Rewind This! makes one believe the battle was over in literally no time. In the grand scheme, it was, but for a defeated format Beta garnered an enormous catalog of titles and players compared to the modern day failure of Toshiba's HD DVD. Such contrast could have helped a layman place the great format war of the '80s into better perspective. Afterward, Frank Henelotter talks about Andre Blay's Magnetic Video Corporation, a first distributor to convince major studios to licence their films for home video. Why delve into Magnetic after discussing the format war when MVC arguably marked the very first rumblings of content on home video?

Roy Frumkes, director of Street Trash (1987), comments throughout with a disdain for VHS being a LaserDisc aficionado. The LD format isn't explored which leaves his attitude unexplained to the uninitiated. There's a five minute segment devoted to the format in the deleted material on the DVD, but annoyingly a collector makes the ridiculous claim that the format is "very flawed" due to laser rot. While this is an issue, just like tape mold or DVD delamination, mention of this issue has no purpose in a small clip about a format that could support an entire documentary unto itself.

Several Japanese interviewees appear, like Toei producer Kazuo Kato and actress Shoko Nakahara, but there's no context as to why they're more important to include than say, an Australian or German perspective. This could have helped just by pointing out how video crazy the country got, with a dizzying amount of world cinema released onto VHS that easily rivaled the output of North America. Of course, being a Japanese tape collector I found their inclusion valuable despite their insights being interchangeable with anyone else. Several porn directors are also interviewed without any mention of the long-standing Nihon Ethics Video Association censorship board and how that shaped the video landscape in Japan. Very disappointing when even obvious region questions aren't asked. And on the censorship note, the only mention of the British Video Recordings Act of 1984 is a segment in the deleted material, why didn't such a influential event in home video make the cut?

That's continually the deal with Rewind This!, a sloppy documentary that provides a long line of questions that usually aren't answered, especially if you've already an enthusiast. The majority of information and insight is easily available elsewhere and I don't find myself wanting to see this again. If you're unfamiliar with the recent nostalgic spike of interest in VHS, Rewind This! may be worth seeing, although active collectors may not pull much from the experience.

Tuesday, February 4

Just a few hours left to buy an original graveyard cross from Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE (1979)


A supposedly original three-foot tall cross from the graveyard scene in Lucio Fulci's Zombie (Zombi 2) (1979) is ending in about fifteen hours over on Yahoo! Auctions Japan (auction link here). The translation is rough, but it states the cross was one of four obtained from the film's prop master, who also worked on The Gates of Hell (Paura nella città dei morti viventi) (1980), during production on location in the Dominican Republic. Three rusted nails, a signed Certificate of Authenticity, and typed history of ownership is included.

The provided details of its history are sketchy. The cross was apparently owned by "Adam Park", a "famous UK horror collector" and writer for a "famous European horror magazine", who received it along with the other crosses/nails from "Robert Kirsch" (or Karsh?). Kirsch, hired by producers Ugo Tucci and Fabrizio de Angelis, was the prop maker who fashioned the crosses for the sequence. The seller also claims to have another cross that was damaged, but the one in this auction is in perfection condition.

Of course, with a non-returnable "Buy It Now" price of about $670US (¥68,000), you'd have to have balls of steel to take such a chance on two bits of wood tacked together. That's probably why it still hasn't sold, even after being re-listed several times over the past few weeks. If definitively proven original, it's certainly something special, despite not appearing exactly screen used. Using Yahoo! Auctions outside of Japan is impossible without a forwarding service like Jauce or Rinkya. Even then, there's a learning curve and all sales are final, even if the item arrives destroyed. So this dubiously "one of a kind" piece will probably remain in Japan for now.

Monday, February 3

Some quick thoughts on Don Dohler's Galaxy Invader (1985)


One of the late Don Dohler's passions was making, by most measures, bad movies. Searching around for opinion makes this clear as there's no shortage of those that love to dump on his filmography. Yet there's something transcendent about his brand of schlock differentiating itself from the usual trashy late night pizza 'n beer offerings.

Dohler's work has an extremely likable, earnest quality tending to be absent on this tier of filmmaking. Acting as editor for all but one of his films, he had keen ability in cutting even mundane scenes to avoid the usual drag that can accompany cheap productions while also invoking tension and dread when necessary. While always short of resources, real care was placed into every project and loyal regulars like Anne Frith and George Stover aided in his vision of a more innocent time of genre cinema. John Paul Kinhart's excellent 2007 documentary, Blood, Boobs & Beast, does a fantastic job of articulating this for the uninitiated, but they're aspects naturally felt throughout his work.

Similar to his previous Nightbeast (1982), Galaxy Invader details a scaly mossy-green alien crashing into backwoods and having to deal with yokels wanting to capture the invader with hopes of dollar signs. Unlike the raging extraterrestrial beast of the '82 feature, this creature is passive, almost reducing the sci-fi angle to a moot point. The narrative actually revolves more around a violent lush, played by another regular Richard Ruxton, spearheading the backward hunt. Every booze-fueled decision eventually drives him to be at deadly odds with his own family. Unlike Dohler's other straight foward potboilers, Galaxy Invader offers a morality play over the destructive nature of alcoholism with a side of ugly alien, cheesy optical laser effects, and flashpot explosions. Though it's doubtful the director ever wanted viewers to dissect his work to such a degree.

Sadly, Galaxy Invader seems to have gone public domain in the last decade with a myriad of cheapo DVD sets. Back in the VHS era; consistent editions from the likes of VCI Entertainment and United Home Video kept the movie in-print for years. Japan only saw one VHS release with totally cracked artwork from CLS Video's Clarion sublabel. This edition is actually taken straight from United's U.S. tape, right down to the opening copyright notice and United logo. Clarion releases are generally rare, this one exceptionally so, as I've only ever seen this single copy.

Thursday, January 30

Some quick thoughts on Roger Watkins' Shadows on the Mind (1980)

.
Years after being traumatized witnessing the drownings of her father and stepmother as a teen, a wealthy young woman, Elise (Marion Joyce), is released from a sanitarium and returns to the remote country estate where she grew up. Shortly afterwards, her estranged stepbrother, psychiatrist, and his fiance converge on the estate and a series of grisly murders begins.

Roger Watkins' Shadows of the Mind is really only worth a look if you're a devotee of the director's prior The Last House on Dead End Street (1977). Much like that infamous effort, Watkins apparently had a terrible experience with Shadows, disowning it and having his name taken off the film's credits prior to release. Watkins only finally revealed in 2005 that he had worked on the film under the name "Bernard Travis". Ryan C. over at Trash Film Guru has has more about the man, who effectively destroyed Watkins' mainstream hopes, behind that pseudonym in his recent entry covering the film. Disenchanted, Watkins' helmed several adult features before surfacing again after the new millennia upon rekindled interest surrounding Last House. Ultimately, Watkins never attempted to reclaim copyright over this meek slasher before his passing in 2007, a strong indication of his feelings toward it.

Shadows simply doesn't possess the constant manic rawness of his chipped 1977 masterpiece. It's about forty tedious minutes of watching a disturbed woman listen to inner voices followed by Watkins' rough-hewn style finally flourishing in several murders. Even then; an overbearing, hackneyed score blaring over the killings undermines their shock value. By the last twenty minutes, you might feel a little of what the director felt after wasting so much unappreciated time on someone else's project.

Co-writer and lead Marion Joyce's Elise is just another boring psychotic stereotype. We never feel anything for her character, making the inevitable killing spree all the more unsurprising. A better, or at least more game, actress might have tried valiantly to breathe life the role, making the experience more bearable, like the unhinged Sallee Young in Demented (1980). The few other cast members add nothing than a body count and their connections to Elise are barely sketched out.

A great example of this Shadows' terrible pacing is when Elise's stepbrother, who wants her out of the picture to inherit the estate, makes it known to the caretaker that his sister probably doesn't want to live there and he might lose his gig. His immediate response in the very next scene is to try and strangle her while screaming, "I need to talk to you!" and "Listen to me!" while her stepbrother pleasingly looks on in the distance. Then right afterward the caretaker is mysteriously killed (seen above). This entire sequence literally makes no sense because the caretaker is hardly given any screen time prior, much less his motives established. Was he always intending to kill her, easily swayed, or mentally handicapped? Or did Elise's stepbrother somehow magically know telling the caretaker that would lead to an altercation that would then drive her to kill the caretaker so he's not a nuance?! My damn head hurts.

Though the film's choppy nature echoes the fate of Last House, which was massively truncated to under eighty minutes from an over three-hour version essentially stolen away from Watkins (sadly still the only version known to exist today). Who knows how much Shadows was tampered with, but likely Watkins didn't have any say in the editing process and it's curious to note the basic credit sequences also resemble those of Last House. Shadows of the Mind is only for those that either love stuffy slasher also-rans, I know you're out there, or wish to see a director's last embittered shot at legitimacy in the face of those that couldn't have given a damn about him as a filmmaker.

However; copies of Shadows of the Mind are pretty damn scarce. The film only received VHS releases in Australia, Netherlands, Venezuela, and Japan. There hasn't been an authorized DVD released anywhere yet. So needless to say this Japanese tape screened for this review, from obscure distributor TSI Group, is extremely rare with just a couple copies ever surfacing. The full frame presentation is in English language with small Japanese subtitles. The Japanese title, 血に飢えた少女, translates to "Bloodthirsty Girl".

Thursday, January 16

So I finally found out there's the potential of an EVIL CULT (2003) prequel!


This sounds dumb, but Rob and Neil Taylor's no budget horror comedy Evil Cult has heart. Rob Taylor stars as Neil Stryker, a man of mysterious origin given a ride by the head of a seemingly peaceful communion. The curious Stryker soon discovers their dirty secrets, including mangling and imprisoning unwillingly participants, with his only option total annihilation after the dangerous cult attempts to melt his brain. Heaps of dismembered bodies, an ultimate showdown with the cult's powerful leader, and a time-jumping surprise from the past ensue.

What separates Evil Cult from the homebrew shot-on-video masses is its sheer creative spirit. Taylor plays quirky badass Stryker with an infectious confidence that, paired with surprisingly balanced comedy, drives straight through the film's rough patches. Tongue-in-cheek nods to Evil Dead kick into overdrive as the character sets upon a path of destruction and it's exactly the kind of goofy movie a middle schooler who's just discovered Raimi's classic would dream up. That's not a slight, a sense of fun sure-footedness conquers Evil's Cult's extremely modest resources and its been an SOV favorite of mine for years.

Still, I never figured there'd be a follow-up. Before stumbling upon "The Mad Scientist" few days ago, I had no clue that the Taylor brothers and friend Nic Costa, who also appeared in the first film, have been chipping away at a prequel since 2005. They even staged a successful Kickstarter campaign a few years back, still up here, to help complete the project and judging by the film's group on Facebook progress is still being made. Rob Taylor also has a YouTube channel with the complete Evil Cult, trailers, and pitch videos. It already looks like a hoot and I'm excited to see what these guys have in store. Here's to hoping this obvious labor of love sees a release this year.

Sunday, January 12

Some thoughts and images from The Making of Sweet Home (1989)


Toho Video's Sweet Home VHS 
Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Sweet Home might be a criterion of sorts, a pioneering example of a video game and film developed in conjunction and released on the same day. However, the certainty of their partnered development is shaky, as the parallels are so strong that it seems hard to believe an entire game was built off of a finished film in such a short span. Despite the film's Wikipedia entry citing an interview with game director Tokuro Fujiwara speaking to a collaborative effort, I'd lean toward the role-playing Famicom game by Capcom coming first with the film adapting from its groundwork.

Either way, this haunted house picture enlivened by inventive effects work is great fun, and seemingly more known to retro game enthusiasts than most horror fans. Toho mounted an impressive marketing blitz upon Sweet Home's "dual" release with one of the fruits being this ninety-minute documentary covering the film's special effects. A wide range of methods were employed, everything from simple lighting tricks to large animatronics, all explored in great detail. Make-up effects legend Dick Smith was tapped to do on-location aging make-up and there's glimpses of him at his craft.

Naturally the entire feature is narrated in Japanese without subtitles, but if you're interested in the film or practical effects it's well worth the time and so comprehensive any language barrier is easy to forgive. There are two small snippets of English of Smith stating it's an honor to work on the film and an American member of the animatronics team describing the difference between what Japanese and American audiences demand from visual effects (Japan has a much higher suspension of disbelief).

According to Tom Mes in his review at Midnight Eye, Kurosawa effectively disowned the film over producer Juzo Itami, who also had a prominent role on-screen, looming large over production. This documentary goes a long way to reinforcing this, as Itami is often seen storyboarding and coordinating sequences with Kurosawa mostly in the background (the second shot below is the only "hands-on" footage of the director included). Itami even makes the VHS's cover front and center posing with one of the SFX props. Pardon the lack of a picture of said cover, I was very graciously sent a DVD-R copy by Yui (@LucioFulci74) of the Splatter, Slasher, Thriller Club (thanks again!). I've collected some stills from this making-of and uploaded the film's theatrical trailer over on BoGD's meager YouTube channel. Hopefully, Sweet Home makes it to DVD/BD eventually, it's still only on VHS and LaserDisc in Japan, and if it ever does this excellent companion piece must accompany it.

Saturday, January 4

Impressions of the Japanese Blu-ray of Dawn of the Dead (Theatrical Version) (1978)


Unlike my thoughts of Scream Factory's Day of the Dead (1985) Blu-ray, I'll cut to the chase. Although I will say that I'm a huge fan of Dawn of the Dead and own multiple releases across different formats from various countries. Being still in the stoneage, I lack a BD-ROM, so sorry, no direct screenshots. I viewed this BD on a calibrated Panasonic TC-P50VT25 plasma and Samsung HL-P5085W (720p) DLP using an non-modded Sony BD-P185 (the disc loaded up quickly with zero issue).

First, the specifications, as reported here, the encode is indeed MPEG-4 AVC on a 50GB disc. Bitrates tend to mean nothing, but megabytes per second never seems to dip below thirty-five and spike into the forties. The English 5.1 track is in lossless Dolby TrueHD with their recent 96kHz upsampling feature (confirmed 96kHz by my Onkyohovering around 2.0mbps). Both the English and Japanese Dub 2.0 are standard 640kHz Dolby. All three tracks sound fine but the 5.1 track has a distinct harshness at times due to the age of the film. Two sets of non-forced Japanese subtitles, not even on by default when selecting English audio.

The only extras are three original US trailers/teasers in full frame standard definition. There are twenty-five chapter stops and the total feature runtime is 2:07:02. Just to compare the Arrow Video UK runs 2:07:03 while the Anchor Bay US runs 2:07:06. There appears to be nothing different about the Japanese disc and other releases of the theatrical version. The Blu-ray case is a thicker style case with a small flyer advertising a few other horror discs from Stingray.

On to the good aspects of Happinet/Stingray's transfer. Overall, the image quality is noticeably improved over both the Anchor Bay and Arrow BDs. Both of those suffer from varying degrees of digital noise reduction, employed as part of a quick "remastering", only hampering fine detail. The Anchor Bay BD especially looks downright blurry. The lack of this on this Happinet BD with healthy grain structure leads to clothing and facial detail being much more lifelike and look less like watching video. On those grounds, this is certainly the best the film has ever looked on home video.

However; this new BD sadly has a few very obvious picture issues. The worst being blown out contrast levels. Contrast is elevated overall, but the real problem is that any direct light source, gleam from reflective surface, and sometimes even the sky in outdoor shots blooms and burns an intense solid white. It becomes distracting and actually hard to look at. Very reminiscent of Sony's recalled Robocop (1987) Blu-ray which also suffered similarly blazing hot white levels.

One of the more obvious examples is the fluorescent tube right outside the door where the group is holding up. It's so super fucking bright there's distortion to the shots it's featured in. The same light on the Anchor Bay and Arrow looks perfectly normal. As noted, this problem also appears in the sky at times, totally blanking out clouds. Especially apparent in the shot of the zombie climbing out of a junker while Roger's trying to hotwire one of the BP trucks. The sky behind the zombie is so bleached white that it almost obscures him. And again the sky in both the US and UK discs looks fine in this regard.

This generally bright contrast only exacerbates what print damage is present. I'm not one to throw a bitchfest over some lines and flecks (both the US and UK have such damage), but there's a really odd anomaly that appears repeatedly throughout. As pictured above, "rainbowing" aliasing pops up to the center right of the frame. It only lasts for a frame or two and takes on different "blob" or line shapes that sometimes move in a strobing fashion before disappearing. The most effected portion of the film is when the young SWAT member commits suicide up until Roger escapes to the basement for relief. Can anyone identify what could be causing this? I'm at a loss to whether it's on the print or haywire digital encoding. Both displays I viewed this BD on exhibited this and I've never seen anything quite like it. Regarding the other "normal" damage, it's interesting this presentation doesn't share any of same wear-and-tear seen on the Anchor Bay or Arrow.

Color is also a bit wonky, but I'm unsure if it's "creative" colorgrading done to this transfer or inherent to the print used. Some shots lean toward a greenish tint, while others reddish, yet others neutral. Sometimes shots within the same sequence have different hues.

An example being when the old priest surprises Peter and Roger in the tenement cellar. The shot of the priest looks normal while the very next shot of the two SWAT members aiming their rifles at him leans red. Or the climax before zombified Stephen reaches their hideout. The shots of Peter telling Fran about Stephen are very warmly hued, then suddenly after the door is wrenched open, the color turns cool. This isn't a massive issue, but the Anchor Bay and Arrow definitely have more consistent, but probably still not "accurate" color schemes.

So it's really a judgment call. The increase in detail is very clear and fantastic to finally see after all these years. Yet the problems described above are also quite apparent. With Anchor Bay's DVD/BD distribution license recently expiring, it's up to how long you're willing to wait for a better or worse Blu-ray re-release. Although if you're a fanatic you'll of course want this edition as it's not just a simple port of an existing transfer (like Happinet's Day of the Dead BD). You can certainly see the potential for a truly fantastic presentation of Dawn of the Dead in this release, but ultimately we're not quite there.

Wednesday, January 1

Some quick thoughts on Zombie Night (2013)

.
To adapt a quote from Alex Cox's Repo Man, ordinary fucking people that you hate fight for survival when zombies arise and begin feasting by night.

There's two predominant camps that will bash John Gulager's Zombie Night, those that cast it off merely for being an Asylum production and those that stupidly expect The Walking Dead. Throwing out those junk opinions, everyone else just won't care for it and that's understandable. After two off-the-rails Feast sequels and the disastrous Piranha 3DD (2012), it's easy to blame Gulager for screwing up this formulaic outing. It might be a mess, but its an interesting one and the director really is the least responsible.

With obvious riffs from Night of the Living Dead (1968), including lethargic zombies, some of the characters in Zombie Night are copied verbatim from the Romero classic. Alan Ruck, who's finally showing some age, is essentially Cooper, a family man swearing by his safe room and stubbornly refusing to help others out of fear for his loved ones. His wife, played by Jennifer Taylor, is Cooper's wife Helen, in contention with her husband's decisions over their bitten son. Shirley Jones of Partridge Family fame embodies an elderly version of the near comatose Barbra. So you'd think lead Antony Michael Hall would be similar to Ben, but a crippling problem arises with not just his character, but also everyone else.

Even if your only exposure to the subgenre is The Walking Dead, you probably get that effective zombie siege fiction tends to need at least one character with a measure of common sense. That individual needn't be a white-bread protagonist or even necessarily right, but someone who endears viewers through sensible actions. We first root for their plans to work and if those collapse hope for the survival of the character. Duane Jones' Ben is that person in the original Night of the Living Dead. On the other hand, Zombie Night lacks such characters as we watch people we never grow to care for running from place-to-place, continually making stupid choices along the way. Literally no one is likable, and although the cast is on auto-pilot, this aspect seems part of the material. There's also some gigantic logic gaps, the biggest being (spoilers, click and drag to highlight) one of the survivors overhearing that all zombies die off at dawn so they just have to survive until then. If this was a first time phenomena, how in the hell would anyone know that would happen?!

Here's a quick example of how unbelievably dumb characters frequently are. We're introduced to a cop who's arresting a looter, and upon returning to his precinct, finds it abandoned and ransacked with phones ringing off the hook. Picking one up he recognizes the voice as one of his old high school teachers, Shirley Jones' character, and promises he'll be right over to assist. It's well apparent zombies have risen as he's forced to leave his squad car after being attacked and witnessing a little girl shot dead and suddenly reanimate (ascribing to the "revised" Romero/Walking Dead rules). So does he have better things to do like finding family and friends in the chaos? Doesn't seem so, when we see him next he's approaching the empty house of his once teacher to investigate. Seriously? 

Ultimately, Zombie Night is more a wasted opportunity than just bad outright. It actually has the chops to be a decent, albeit run-of-the-mill timewaster. Gulager's capable direction guides a film, with solid zombie make-up, that wisely keeps its ambitions within its slim budget. Unlike The Asylum's recent Zombie Apocalypse and Rise of the Zombies that end up straining with how high they aim. Yet dumb, unsympathetic characters paired with an aimless story and paycheck acting make this one a chore. If you're still interested, The Asylum now has three movies of the same ilk and I'll bet we'll see a cheapo three-pack at Wal Mart soon. Also I'm unsure what's new/different in this unrated version compared to Syfy's airing, but the total runtime is 1:28:21.
.
...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
Basement of Ghoulish Decadence, Basement of Ghoulish Archive, and all original material Copyright © 2009-present by Jayson Kennedy. All rights reserved.