Thursday, December 31

Some quick thoughts on Bio-Zombie (1998)

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I hate not really enjoying Bio-Zombie (Sun faa sau si) for the unoffensive zombo romp that it's generally considered being. It's not alien that this one sometimes lands in top ten lists detailing the best undead numbers of all time. Good justification can be seen in that, with Cantonese horror dominated by hopping vampires and Anthony Wong murdering children, to my knowledge Wilson Yip's film is the only straight zombie flick hailing from one of China's thriving capitalist regions. That alone deserves recognition even with my qualms.

Like the Weasel's 1996 masterwork, Bio-Dome, this flesh-eating mall invasion shares a pair of young dude, nimrod protagonists and their misadventures...only with oatmeal-plastered zombies. Woody (Jordan Chan) and Bee (Sam Lee) run a shady VCD shop while looking to get one over on everyone, treating co-workers like trash, and mugging customers. Sorry to mention Pauly Shore again in the same paragraph, but at least Dome's Bud and Doyle aren't abrasive assholes.

Perhaps this is some statement on rebellious (or wannabe) Hong Kong youth culture, but there's an acceptance issue when later Woody and Bee are casually presented as the good guys in contrast to another asshole shop owner who relentlessly torments his wife. While this provides the dramatic motivation in the film's second half as situations test the bullshit arrogance of the duo, it's still hard to root for them with nearly fifty minutes of screaming, stealing, slapping, and drinking antagonistically aimed at others who don't deserve it before the zombies get serious.

The zombie infection dynamic is off-kilter with an unseen spread of the epidemic outside the mall, caused by toxic soda pop,eventually making its way into the building's corridors. We never see pardons attacked or the mall bustling with activity with most of the zombies simply appearing for the last half hour. The film finally picks up and it's like dominoes falling complete with brain drilling, decaps, parking garage smackdowns, and nifty character profiles. Special kudos go to the giga-hot Angela Tong for making the most heart-meltingly cute mock zombie groan while trying to eat a finger at the behest of an amorous sushi bar-working nerd turned poorly make-uped zombie.

The more cast members that meet a toothy slaughter--the better Bio-Zombie gets. The talky frenzy calms as Yip adopts a more serious tone rather than the otherwise dominating Americanized teen comedy shtick. It's actually not that hard to envision a domestic remake being crafted without too many cultural "adjustments" required in the translation. The ending, at least the one featured on Tokyo Shock's DVD, is pleasingly nihilistic and sends the film off on a high note. Bio-Zombie is worth seeing for the ardent zombie flick buff, but it's a shame Yip had such unlikable characters as leads and lets the adolescent laughs overwhelm the few very promising (yet unfulfilled) glimmers of undead cinema maturity.
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Tuesday, December 29

Let's Make It Three Days: Another Entry about Paranormal Activity!

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So Jayson, how about some VHS scans, a review of some obscure crap, or a video where you incessantly gloat about your collection? Yeah, I know how you feel, more about Paranormal Activity. This will be the last day of PA-madness...well, maybe until the weekend. Though I've found an interesting tidbit concerning the availability of the director's cut or at least a version differing from the theatrical cut.

Geof and Anthony on yesterday's entry commented about seeing the flick's original cut from a screener. Poking around torrents, there appears to be bootleg videos that all hover within 97 minutes. This runtime more-or-less matches the supposed duration of the director's cut. The resolution details of these videos also all match that of an anamorphic DVD presentation (852x480), so I'm assuming these are jacked from a DVD screener of the original cut they speak of. The last still at the bottom right (red arrow) of the encode preview below is from the film's third and original ending.

Just to be absolutely clear, there's the three endings and the versions they're tied to (spoilers, highlight to read): 1. The Paramount Theatrical Cut: Micah killed, throw at camera, and Katie possessed. / 2. The DVD's alternate ending: Micah killed, Katie slits own throat in front of camera. / 3. The original cut's ending: Micah killed, Katie possessed, police arrive.

Now, my skill with the whole torrent thing is that of a retarded chimp that's just been hit by a car while on Valium, so I have no idea how to download/play/whatever the file. Please don't ask me where to find it. I found this image through a simple Google Images search. I know of a guy at the swap meet whose had bootleg discs of the film for weeks, so hopefully he'll have them this coming weekend. See? I tried to be a good little media-responsible consumer and wait for what I figured was the "right" and legal home video release. Paramount didn't send review copies on DVD or Blu-ray out, so the most prevalent illegal version right now seems to be the original cut.

I seldom condone bootlegs of such recent, widely available films, but this is push coming to shove given what I've been annoying you with since Sunday. I bought Paramount's DVD legally from an "authorized" nationwide chain store, so they already have my $20. I want to see and own the original cut as a supplement. When Paramount gets around to doing the right thing, I'll end up buying their SE DVD with "the version you've never seen!" presumably with the arrival of Paranormal Activity Part Deux. Or perhaps when/if an overseas distributor saves the film from this version hell with their DVD or Blu-ray release, please!?!

I will (hopefully) have some time off for New Years starting Thursday, so I'll have some time to relax and vary up the content of BoGD.

Monday, December 28

Some quick thoughts on Paranormal Activity (2007)

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First off, I'm still peeved at Paramount over their treatment of Paranormal Activity and its DVD/Blu-ray releases. I watched the film for the first time last night before reading about its multiple versions afterward. Now I feel like I haven't seen really "seen" the film despite seeing it...or at least some form of it. Like most of you reading this, I hate watching films altered from their original versions. Of course, this type of thing happens more often than we know, but in this case its so obvious and flagrant. Not to mention this being a horror film so it all feels more personal in a sense. Horror being released incomplete on home video in this day-and-age? That just doesn't happen...

Everyone probably already knows the story about Paramount snapping up the rights, sitting on it for well over a year, rumors of the studio planning a remake, and suddenly deciding to release the original with a "Demand It!" gimmick with the rest being recent history. I suspect the studio decided long before an official announcement to widely release the original. It just took time to "mold" the film for mainstream audiences, apparently supervised by unofficial Poltergeist director Steven Spielberg, and devise a marketing campaign to drum up hype.

This 86 minute theatrical version turned out to the most profitable film in history, but that's beside the point. I feel like I've witnessed only what Paramount designed for me to see--not director Peli. A small genre indie has been taken and coiled through a big studio post editing gristmill for maximum box office revenue. With this situation in mind, it's tough to truly judge the film without its intended arrangement.

Paranormal Activity is a Pollock in the horror genre. The $15,000 execution and aim is so simple that the split love/hate reaction speaks to the same polarizing effect of the art of Jackson Pollock. What makes the artist's work so significant, despite looking to some like paint wantonly splattered on canvas, is that it was never done before Pollock. Peli's film has a few processors, chiefly The Blair Witch Project, but its confoundedly "why didn't I think of that" concept, adaption of familiar traditional horror themes, and similar cultural impact make it a foundational example of the fresh found footage subgenre.

Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat do a fine job as the couple terrorized by a phantom attic-dwelling demon. Their "lived-in" acting falls into a middle ground between the vulnerable rawness of the people in Blair Witch and the wooden hyper-realism of the actors in Romero's Diary of the Dead. The effect being you don't find yourself clinging to their shoulders like you do in the chilly repeating woods freaked out by a witch, but stiffened with fright by the lingering noises and slamming doors. This is one intention that's hopefully original, surviving Paramount's bastardization.

My complaints are small, but I'm reserving them until I see Oren Peli's authentic creation. I will say the alternate ending on this DVD, which is quieter and more disturbing, seems to fit better in the context with what I've read about Peli's director's cut. There's also some visual cues earlier in the film that can be tied to this particular climax rather than the slambang as-seen-in-theaters chair jumping conclusion. Paranormal Activity seems a very worthy horror feature saddled with very unworthy treatment. Keep those fingers crossed.
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Sunday, December 27

Paranormal Activity on DVD: Where's the Beef, Dammit?

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I was going to save this for a review tomorrow, but checking out the Paramount DVD just now (found early at Wal Mart), I found out some pertinent details regarding the versions available on this release. According the IMDB's alternate versions page, there's a "director's cut" of the feature that supposedly runs 99 minutes in length. This version isn't on this official DVD. The disc is advertised as having the R-rated theatrical version as well as an unrated version with an alternate ending. Both the theatrical version and unrated version run an exact total of one hour, twenty-six minutes, and twenty-five seconds according to my DVD player and DVD-ROM.

The unrated version is actually a bit of a falsehood, as the only thing that appears to be different is the ending. The ending described on the IMDB page linked above is not the alternate ending presented on this DVD. I assume Paramount didn't submit the disc's alternate ending to the MPAA so tacking it onto the R-rated cut makes the same cut then "unrated". According to this blog entry concerning the film's multiple endings at Roger really, the IMDB ending was the director's original, while the ending presented on this DVD is a "rare alternate ending screened publicly only once." Not spoiling it here, but the alternate ending on this disc is the last one described in detail by the author of Roger really.

Aside from the theatrical Spielberg cut and the seamlessly branched alternate ending, all of the material and aural alterations described in the "director's cut" aren't presented nor is the third ending (that was available to be seen online on YouTube and MovieWeb before Paramount pulled it). The DVD's only other extra is a trailer for Scorsese's Shutter Island (see the main menu here). Paramount appears to be holding out on us and that's bullshit. Where's the definitive DVD/Blu-ray release featuring the director's preferred version? Especially with how long we've had to wait to finally experience Oren Peli's film. Spread the word on this. Also anyone know if the director's cut or version featuring the third ending is available online, uhhh, nefariously?

*EDIT: The Spanish credit screens were for the Spanish language dub track also on the disc. Never seen such credits on a DVD before...

Some quick thoughts on Inglourious Basterds (2009)

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After finally getting down with Tarantino's latest last night, I'm still perplexed by Inglourious Basterds. Fits and starts of bold artistic strokes make for the most audacious revisionist WWII flick ever mounted. Yet the nonchalant pace and fuck you focus on minutiae make for a wartime "adventure" that's nowhere near as entertaining as other pulpy military classics such as Where Eagles Dare, The Dirty Dozen, and Kelly's Heroes. Despite all four of the aforementioned having similar 150 minute runtimes, Basterds lacks the "pick-and-go" watchability of the other three. In other words, I don't think I could start in the middle of Tarantino's film and get totally sucked like seeing Posey trying to stick the Major or hearing Oddball keep mentioning positive and negative waves, man.

Just to get this out of the way, people that wish to question Tarantino's moral compass by his film's complete absence of the Holocaust or negative portrayal of fucking Nazis (seriously, people?) are overripe with malformed politically correct rhetoric. Tarantino's intentions have always been clear and the marketing hasn't sold a false bill of goods to the masses. Inglourious Basterds is a cathartic, gory chunk of Nahhh-Z killin' and there's nothing wrong with that. An historical improvisation any levelheaded individual would find as an immensely gratifying, albeit hypothetical end to the upper fascist crust of the Third Reich. Perhaps some have sour grapes over certain performances in such a Nazi hating picture being so magnificent.

The best thing about Basterds is Christoph Waltz and Mélanie Laurent. Those harshly critical would only be doing a disservice to themselves to lump the perfect turns of these two into their gripes. Waltz is amazing diffusing just the right amount of sardonic hokum (it's a QT joint after all) into supreme jackboot prowess making his every word a source of utter dread. His Colonel Hans Landa is one of the greatest on-screen portraits of amiable villainy in decades. Mélanie Laurent's Shosanna Dreyfus shows an actress talent well beyond her twenty-six years. Female protagonist Dreyfus is stridently confident vocally yet continually says so much more in silence. It's the kind of American mainstream peel back into the world of superb acting craft abroad to savor while it lasts (Waltz as well), and no spoilers, but at one point you literally want to punch Quentin in the face over her character's path.

Everyone else are pretty much amoebas floating around these Herculean performances. This defeats the purpose of having Pitt and his bastards included at all. We hear much more about the dastardly exploits and murderous reputation of the group than we actually see. Besides some scalping, one instance of baseball bat cranial destruction, and the men clandestinely hopping about the film's map out of convenience. Til Schweiger brings the psychotic bad ass as Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (har har) but again isn't given much to do along with his other basterds. Some in the group simply disappear and Pitt's cornball-accented Lt. Raine is no Eastwood or Marvin. Though Raine's "bonjourno" struggle with Landa at the premiere is hilarious. Eli Roth? No idea. I'm assuming these guys (especially Brad) had to be included for the sake of studio suit comfort, but given more time it's not impossible to imagine Tarantino slicing out these Jewish Nazi-slaughterers entirely in subsequent drafts in favor of the feature's real thrust.

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intensely disliked are the out-of-period/-genre musical selections (Cat People, really?), the Sam Jackson-narrated explanations of Stiglitz's past and nitrate film's flashpoint, and the notices of who certain Nazi luminaries are by scribbled on-screen text. The tedium of the longwinded Hammersmark basement bar conversation is best fast-forwarded through in future viewings. I could watch Landa or Dreyfus for hours, but this mind-grinding scene is probably thee example of Tarantino becoming far too obsessively infatuated with his characters to the audience's detriment. Not having anywhere else to put this, the film's final reel is truly excellent and we witness a director working at a sustained career high as fates converge and some fascists meet a taste of the Hell they've wrought. If Inglourious Basterds proves anything, it's that Tarantino is almost there (this is akin to two different yet similar WWII films actively colliding) and there's more than enough here to deem this his best "actors film" up to this point...
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Saturday, December 26

This whole Shock Festival thing...

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Am I the only left cold by Stephen Romano's Shock Festival, at least in paper form? Much like the faux trailers in Grindhouse, this book complies a pandora's box of pulpy 42nd Street backwash, filmmakers, and actors that never existed luridly splashed upon soiled paper found on the sticky floors of some seedy Big Apple dime theater. That sounds great...until you flip through the pages for yourself.

Well, that was my personal reaction flipping through this weightless tome at Borders a few weeks back. I had never heard of Shock Festival before this run-in and at first glance thought it had the makings of one of the most awesome cult film coffee books ever on aesthetic grounds. After about three seconds, this lust deflated with the realization everything was made up. Anyone whose been a devotee of maverick exploiters knows it's hard enough to keep up with the real selections lurking across the globe yet to land into our grubby hands for consumption.

Yes, it's colorfully rendered junk food (think those weird spongy pink peanuts) for those who hold Christina Lindberg and Soledad Miranda in goddess status. I just couldn't help thinking that, at best, this rather expensive ($25-40) book can be likened to an annoying dream. You know, those dreams were one finds great material wealth only to realize it'll all be gone once your eyes crack open? You then grumble and roll over trying to avoid the old hag.

This sounds mighty hypocritical of me, but why should I give a damn? No doubt much creativity, knowledge, and love of the aped material from Romano and artists pour from the pages. I'd just much rather pick up and actually learn something from a few Video Watchdogs, HorrorHounds, or a similar priced book/guide covering a real cult movie subgenre or filmmaker. The commissioned poster art and mentions of hiring Shock Festival for said art jobs on the official site only smell of the book being a portfolio with an MSRP for Mr. Romano. The 352-page book is like reading the back stats on baseball cards of players who went nowhere. Who really cares after an initial browse through it? It's not like years later you finally see one of these hidden gems and then pick the book back up to once again read with a new perspective.

There is a Shock Festival DVD release coming in at a whopping three discs (DVDTalk review) that seems like a better investment for the sake of the real trailers included. Still, give me 42nd Street Forever or give me death. Since this entry is basically free publicity for SF, I'd say judge for yourself (preferably first hand before you buy), just because Grindhouse's trailers rocked the Casbah doesn't necessarily lend the concept to something equally as good when presented in such large quantities.
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Friday, December 25

Nothing like a little Darkness on Christmas...

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"This one will fuck you up, a shame no one's heard of it!" Those were the words of the wigged-out and tatted-up dude I bought this tape from years ago. I was among those who had no idea what I was looking at, but just look at that damn cover all slathered in gratuitous porno for the horror fanatic's eyes. Even if what was recorded on the magnetic tape held within sucked, that's one hell of a cover to pass up. Not to mention when a guy wearing a Goatlord t-shirt with a tattoo sleeve depicting the bloody muscle structure under his skin tells you something will "fuck you up"--it's probably best to listen.

Film Threat Video's Darkness, the film's 1993 home video debut, marked my introduction to the realm of the genre known as no-budget splatter. Since then, I've seen quite a few suburban homebrew Karo syrup freakouts, but Leif Jonker's sprawling opus still stands as the most ambitious. The complaints of the film's distractors fall into the usual checkboxes of indies of this ilk. The extremely poor lighting (vastly helped by Barrel Entertainment's definitive DVDs), the actually-not-too-bad acting, some barely audible dialogue, plot holes, and even the metalhead attire of the youthful cast fall under the sights of critics. Although true to varying degrees, nitpicking such details misses the broader qualities of this rollicking DIY vampire epic.

Aside from very few other underground Super8/shot-on-video genre offerings, Darkness has an undeniable consistency. The showcase sequences involving gas station suicide, chainsaws pissed off at drywall, Olympic car wash stall spiriting, and mildly adverse reactions to the ultraviolet spectrum are paced evenly as to have no stretch become boring. The quieter moments in between don't drag with some story particulars glossed over for the sake of this welcoming brevity. This is a quality that's often found lacking from such basement horrors that make for a laborious sitdown. For this aspect alone, Jonker deserved a career in the genre (this is the director's sole film), as even horror with budgets tenfold struggle with this very issue.

It's tough to peg down, but the scenes of teen vampires and our teen heroes running from them have a certain adolescent vitality. You could edit a compelling video to R.E.M.'s Drive using these snippets. There's even a bit of moment-of-detonation atom bomb imagery mixed into all the grue. Last but certainly not least, the gore and splatter is tremendous. Heads become pop rocks, convenience store stand-offs become fodder for shock websites, flesh melts into red-slicked raw chicken meat, and trembling corpses become one with asphalt through self-mutilating yoga exercises. Darkness is a testament to picking up your parent's cheap camera and the perfect example of a horror film that admirably reaches far past its literal Denny's steak and eggs budget.
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Thursday, December 24

Some quick thoughts on Jason X (2001)

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Awww yes, the much maligned Jason X. I can remember the pre-judgment many made over the very concept of Mr. Voorhees in outer space. Back on the now defunct Diabolical Dominion forum, a loud majority seemed dead set against the idea regardless of the outcome. Some were more optimistic, but those entrenched on the opposing side often resorted to casting the "you aren't a "real" fan..." charge on those willing to wait. Shades of all the pre-release hubris surrounding Avatar just like with most major releases or franchise with a longstanding following on the Interwebs. Of course, the release date delays and rumors of a troubled production didn't help the reception of this tenth kill-a-ton celebration headed up by everyone's favorite deformed momma's boy.

This textual tug of war colored my reaction when I finally saw the intergalactic misadventures of the macheted-one. James Issac's sequel is just so different and no one really expected (nor particularly wished to see) the beastly character shot off into the stars. The space angle seemed like a ploy at the then fledgling rebirth of episodic space operas on the boob tube. Finding the Pioneer/GAGA Communications Japanese DVD peaked my interest in seeing it again after years. And despite not watching that particular disc (factory sealed, 'natch), popping in the stateside New Line Platinum edition last night led to a surprising reevaluation.

Jason X isn't nearly the embarrassment than remembered. Sure, the flick has some obvious issues; the production has that ramshackle television look, the nearly one-dimensional CG spacecraft effects, the Alien/Aliens-themed riff raff, the science being firmly armchair, and (sorry to say) Manfredini's last Friday score often sounding noticeably cheap. We horror fans love to guard our properties like our own children, though to his credit, Isaac seems to "get" yet not piss away the series being essentially popcorn slasher fun. This is exactly what this flick embodies when stripped of all the motherly protection and unreachable expectation that we too often saddle our beloved horror icons with. After revisiting this, you can't tell me this is a bad way at all for the F13 series proper to conclude compared to the fates of the "original" Freddy, Michael, Pinhead, or Chucky lineages. Those demanding more gloss and sheen have their rather innocuous, ultra slick Bay-fueled re-imagining.

Kane Hodder's performance just might be his best behind the Jarvis-slashed hockey mask. The character is ridiculously menacing from picture start like a fucking brickwall of interstellar teenage doom. A vastly better showing than the fifteen-or-so minutes of screen time the real Jason received going to Hell. The makers of Freddy vs. Jason and Friday the 13th (2009) may have wanted a taller Voorhees, but the barrel-chested Hodder proves the only one with the exacting brutish mannerisms to make the Crystal Lake Corpse truly terrifying. Shit, Kane as Jason could be a full foot shorter and still make your legs itch from piss-soaked jeans as you bolt through the woods screaming for your life. Issac wisely makes Hodder the clear star; once Jason smashes the crystallized face of that future space babe, the sex ends as the slaughter begins. Also Uber-Jason is certainly more agreeable than the dumb body jumpin' in Jason Goes to Hell.

Hell, I didn't even mind all the cheeky quips from the human cattle and sexy leather-clad android. This humor makes one care more for the admittedly single-serve victims. I can't remember who said '95's Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight was the last of the old guard before the Scream revolution, but Jason X could be considered its final death rattle before Saw and all these remakes cluttered the landscape. This is one of those unabashed horror flicks for horror fans. That should make sense to those dyed-in-the-wool.
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Wednesday, December 23

Tuesday, December 22

Video: One Japanese DVD Lot To Rule Them All...

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This isn't all of 'em, so I'll post a follow-up video soon just to further prove that I'm an absolute geek...


Monday, December 21

Evil Things: The Blog Blitz and the Big Freeze...

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Last week I received a mysterious "confidential" envelope from an Agent D. Perez supposedly from the Feds. I sorta freaked but then discovered it was a bit of ingenious press kitting from the makers of the found footage horror indie Evil Things (IMDB here). I was set to watch the film for reviewing purposes last Thursday only to discover my DVD player doesn't play nice with the DVD-R. Despite the disc being authored correctly as a single layer DVD, at just six minutes in the picture and sound suddenly halt and the player becomes totally unresponsive even after repeated attempts. I'm one of the few on planet Earth who lack computer speakers, so popping this into to my DVD-ROM is a no-go. So I'm stuck until I haul out my other player and hook it back up. I feel an obligation to Dominic Perez and the powers that be behind Evil Things (official site) to say I really appreciate the chance to review your film and the rather frightening surprise in my mailbox. Though it might take some time before I can do what's necessary to watch the other eighty eight minutes.

In lieu of a BoGD review right now, here's several other reviews from fellow bloggers since the film seems to be popping up all over the horror blogosphere as of late. I will get to my review sometime after the holidays. Although judging by skimming over these, I'm missing out! If I happened to miss your review, please feel to post a direct link in the comments section! Check out the film's trailer over at YouTube!

Sunday, December 20

Stupid Fun with Zombie 4: After Death (1988)

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Before I get hate mail from the two other people that like this Claudio Fragasso-helmed rancid pasta outing; I actually don't mind it too in a late '80s Italiano splat twilight kinda way. Also not to step on any toes, check out The Horror Effect's CAPS entries for something similar...

Couldn't Get Through It: Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1994)

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A group of '90s standard twenty-something high schoolers up and slam their car into, beat over the head, and damn near burn the old witch keeper of Pumpkinhead to death. The titular demon then revives after these dumbasses perform an impromptu ritual using his human-form corpse. The windy, schizophrenic strobe lighted kills begin anew as the Elephantiasis sufferer from Hades stalks the countryside by night.

There's two predominant types of "good" cheap horror programmers. The ones in which filmmakers pleasingly thrive under such piecemeal conditions while the other kind that may not have this quality, but get by on sheer gusto and/or laughs spurred by their ineptitude. Jeff Burr's Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings doesn't sit in either camp instead landing with match grade accuracy into a cold middle ground. The result just might be the most uninteresting second sequel of a mainstream horror franchise ever. The cheapness of the whole thing quickly becomes painfully tacky and too obvious to ignore.

Everyone comes out looking bad, especially Director Burr, with one getting the impression the studio either pissed him off or he having absolutely no interest in the material. The barren sets are cramped with no directorial flare to enliven them, the "action" sequences sloppily cobbled together, and I swear the same two chairs against a wall of a one room police station also appear against the wall of a hospital lab. You know there's serious problems when the most interesting shot is a camera taped to a shovel handle. Even little details seem thrown away, like a brief shot of a car backing up after the old witch gets slammed into by the teens. There's a million ways to frame a car inquisitively backing up. Here it's a boring roadside shot with the rear end barely drifting into the left side and stopping as the next shot begins. That might seem meaningless, but it's in a long line of who-gives-a-damn piss takes.

The usually dependable Andrew Robinson (Dirty Harry, Hellraiser) is terrible as the lead sheriff and father of a girl in the young, doomed group. Joe Unger ("go get the meat!" from Texas Chainsaw 3), Kane Hodder, and a nearly unrecognizable Linnea Quigley show up for checks as backwood victims. Unger's small performance is like a dim beam of light in a roomful of shattered bulbs. There's loads of annoying ADR for all the stilted dialogue and no one else in this wreck is worth mentioning. At one point, Quigley survives the vengeance of the demon only to wildly scream into the arms of Robinson with a nurse immediately saying something to the effect of "she's in a state of extreme shock, almost scared to death" like it's a shade of human emotional reaction that's unprecedented in the history of film. Groan...

This sequel only shows how solid the work of Stan Winston, Lance Henriksen, and the host of writers of the original really is. Burr and the two no-other-credit writers took a creation born from Hell's Autumn season and unemotionally plunged into '90s clunker purgatory. I lasted about fifty minutes in and feel I'm not missing a single thing by halting the tape from utter disinterest. I haven't seen Ashes to Ashes or Blood Feud, but after this the only direction to go is up.
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Saturday, December 19

Friday, December 18

Some quick thoughts on Savage Weekend (1976...or 1979...or 1981)

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A recently divorced woman, her new hubbie, and a couple of her fellow city slicker yuppie friends go off to the country for a weekend to relax while checking on the build progress of a yacht. The locals are stand-offish bumpkins and the guy working on the boat, Otis (William Sanderson), is the local dimwit with a checkered past. See, years ago Otis assaulted a couple in the woods and ended up branding an H (for "whore", ol' Otis can't spell too good) onto the bare chest of a girl. He's not the only one keeping a watchful eye on the outsiders. There's also a lumberjack supplying wood for the seafaring restoration whom the flirtatious woman kinda lusts after. Though no one is safe once a figure dawning a gory Halloween mask begins the meek slaughter...

Awesome cover, eh? Unfortunately, this pretty much forgotten slasher is pretty much crap. The chief problem is everything being lazy from the drag-ass editing, absent acting, and a story that could have been condensed into fifteen minutes or less that still wouldn't have quite made sense. The opening scene even resorts to shuffling the climax to forcefully infer who the makers wish the viewer to perceive as the killer throughout. One couldn't care less about the yuppie meatbags as they bounce into each other trying to provoke inane intrigue. The presence of a smattering of old style thick an' rich 3M effects blood (no gory moneyshots here, folks) and some pasty boobies can't save this not-so savage weekend as we push this ten ton monolith of bad bad movie into the last half hour. Just another example of slasher with an okay looking killer (in that last half hour) being plowed by overwhelming watch once mediocrity. It's hard to believe this was shot just three or four years after Craven's seminal The Last House on the Left.

Besides looking like Moochie and Tuna got a hold of the box, Paragon Video's tape has some quirks. Later releases of this tape stated "A Cannon Films Release" on the front but this one doesn't. Before the film, there's a notice of an R-rating from King of Video, Inc. which was Paragon's original name. Some shots, like the opening credits and close-ups of the masked madman, are matted at 1.85:1 widescreen while the rest is left unmatted. This leads to many obvious occasions of boom mics floating above and below the actors.
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Thursday, December 17

Video: The Tape Cut-ups, Pt. 1

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Here's a video of some of my VHS cut boxes. Most of these are "lesser" selections but there's a few interesting ones mixed in. Tomorrow is finally Friday; so I hope to veg out after a laborious work week, watch a few flicks, attend the swap meet (snow permitting), wait on a few mailed goodies, and lurk around BoGD. Enjoy my 1,086 instances of "uhhh" during this vid!




Wednesday, December 16

Another Day of "Sorta" Content: The Weirdness of Knee Dancing

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Beat all to hell at work today again so here's another odd one-off into my collection that's sure to bore most though I'm too shot for extensively coherent thought this evening. Here's two VHS clamshells of Doreen Ross's Knee Dancing. The one on the left has no studio name or logo anywhere on the case or tape while the the right copy is from "Neon Video". Yep, the same studio responsible for the baffling White Justice (thoughts here). According to the IMDB (threadbare listing here), Knee Dancing is from 1988, but the look of the artwork reeks of 1978. Troma apparently has this one, deeming it "beyond weird!", available for international distribution. How did I come across two copies from two different obscure studios of such an obscurity? I have no idea...

Tuesday, December 15

Igor Munching on a Bath Brush...

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Pretty beat today so here's something small yet hopefully interesting. This is the Video Gems clamshell of Sergio Martino's Sex with a Smile (40 gradi all'ombra del lenzuolo) (1976) with Marty Feldman, Barbara Bouchet, Edwige Fenech, and Tomas Milian among others. This is a VHS edition of the film you wouldn't likely see again being that it's twenty-eight years old and the studio re-issuing it in a cardboard big box a few years later. Although this copy isn't in perfect shape, its uncut condition is amazing considering its age and all the art being nakedly printed on a puffy white clamshell. I'm putting this one up so I'm sharing now before it's packed away for safe keeping.

Monday, December 14

Swap Meet Finds: Approved by Bob Dobbs

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Bustling at the vast assemblage of earnest peoples pedaling meager wears always trickles after the cold snap begets winter's chilled caress (highfalutin language!). In other words, I ain't found shit this past weekend because of the friggin' cold keeping people away. Though I did manage the few neato tapes to your left.

First up is Camp Motion Pictures big box of Goremet, Zombie Chef from Hell (1986). I haven't seen this one yet, but by most accounts it's trash despite the awesome cover. The big box edition is quite rare with the "small" cardboard slipcover being more prevalent though still rare itself. The next tape is Wizard Video's über-rare The Texas Chainsaw Massacre released in 1982. The problem is the box is falling apart (time to break out the super glue), the tape has a few spots of mold (time for some delicate open-cassette surgery), and worst of all some stupid idiot signed their name in the right corner of the tape's front label. Still, it was only two bucks so I really can't complain, right, Ms. "Grace Manning"? I can't help that every copy of Reb Brown's pièce de résistance Strike Commando sticks to my hand. Lenzi's Battle of the Commandos (La legione dei dannati) (1969) is NTA Entertainment's Betamax edition in brand new condition to go along with my identical, just bigger NTA VHS.

I also took a trip to Wal Mart for milk and Tuna Helper and found an incorrectly priced copy of MGM's Collector's Edition of Craven's The Last House on the Left for $5. This seemed like a unique occurrence so don't go running to your nearest neighborhood business-crushing location. In their 2 for $11 dump bin, it appears Dimension have quietly re-released the CE of Halloween: H20 with an anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer as opposed to the ancient non-anamorphic version. Dark Sky's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - 2-DVD Ultimate Edition metal Steelbook is now assumed to be out-of-print since I spotted four copies in plastic cases that were identical to the metal editions with no mention of corrected audio for those anal enough to know about that.
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Sunday, December 13

Quick Weekend Views: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) & Death Warmed Up (1984)

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You gotta love how the producers of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer were expecting a formulaic slasher only to get a hulking block of stark brutality from a director and lead working on starting gate creative highs. John McNaughton proceeds to kick your teeth in while Michael Rooker then forces you to eat those pearly whites. The effortless pacing, cold character interaction, and near total lack of liquid red body warmer acts as a reminder of the true horror that's potentially fumigating a neighbor's home or opening their door for a hitchhiker across town.

Rooker's career-cementing "my mama was a whore..." speech is what first crystallizes the methodical character to the viewer. A lesser work would have had a more overt red herring, not merely an opening attention-grabber of Henry driving about intercut with the murdered, but all the trembling psychosis is right there in that kitchen table conversation. Little touches such as his fractured morality shunning sexuality and Henry's bloodlust running hot and then suddenly ice cold for no obvious reason add to the complexity of the psychopath. Rooker makes his character a simplistic brute outwardly, but a terrifyingly cunning mangled corpse generator that is extraordinarily self-aware of his capabilities and limits.

The chameleon-like actor Tom Towles and Tracey Arnold do an excellent job supporting Rooker's seething powerhouse. Towles' Otis favors himself the smartest man in the room and he seems the "right" type of personality for Henry to nurture in the ways of murder. Though the inhuman power taking human life grants the perpetrator becomes too much when mixed with Otis's panache for various sexual perversions. Arnold's Becky is the lop-sided love interest of Henry who becomes smitten and then attracted to Henry's damaged past like her own. A shame her acting career floundered afterward.

This line sounds trite, but this deviant drama leads to one of the most chilling last frames ever filmed. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a rite of passage of sorts. If you can see the mastery on hand through the unforgiving savagery, you're prepared for most anything the screen can muster and possess the insight to see the beauty in the blackest of nihilistic conclusions. Pony Canyon's Japanese VHS is completely uncut in the film's original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

On the other hand, I'm unsure what to make of David Blyth's Death Warmed Up, one of New Zealand's first "proper" horror features. The story concerns a mad doctor mucking around with nature and creating pissed off punk mutants through off-kilter brain surgery. The film begins in flashback with this same madman hypnotizing a teenager into coldly shotgunning his parents to death whose subsequently institutionalized for seven years. Upon release, the young man's life seems to idyllically kickstart as he and three happy-go-lucky friends travel to an island the doctor and his experiments inhabit for revenge...I guess...?

It's the type of flick that defies easy categorization. I don't know what it is with New Zealander films in general, but this one undeniably has that certain sunny kiwi charm like Jackson's Braindead (Dead Alive) or 1987's Contagion. Though this heady brew isn't squarely "horror", there's a bit of post-apocalyptic Running Man-esqe action with a hint of leathery cyberpunk mixed in with the copious splatter.

Blyth directs with flare initially but as the film wears you get the impression the director loses a bit of interest. Of course, I have no idea whether or not the film was shot in-sequence. The bloody mayhem involving exploding heads, ruthless stabbings, and intimate skull bone sawing coupled with its lightweight charm are enough to make up for the story's carefree attitude. I might warm to this weird concoction with repeat viewings. Vestron Video's VHS runs just under 83 minutes and might be missing slivers here-and-there with some of the gorier shots sloppily cutting too quickly.

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Saturday, December 12

What's with all this Fright Night 2 insanity?

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I'm not sore that I never got around to picking up Artisan's now out-of-print DVD of Fright Night Part II that's now demanding an average of 'fiffy to over 'hunerd buck on Amazon and eBay. Though as a PSA to all, this disc isn't worth those prices and kinda not worth the cheapo bargain prices it could have been had for when still readily available. When Artisan sunk under Lionsgate's umbrella in 2003, many of their late '80s/early '90s horror catalog DVD titles saw their days numbered, and Fright Night Part II seemed to vanish overnight.

Like Fright Night, this sequel was originally shot in 2.35:1 scope, but Artisan's disc features a composition-shattering pan-and-scan full screen transfer much like ye olden VHS of yore. This seems right since the source for the DVD's transfer is the old hazy video master utilized for the International Video Entertainment (I.V.E.) cassette. As these captures in the review over at Taliesin Meets the Vampires attest, the film's presentation on Artisan's disc looks like a weak Laserdisc at best anyway. Artisan's DVD otherwise has nothing going for it in the supplemental material department unless you count the cool cover art and chapter list insert as extras.

So my advice is to either be patient in your search for this disc or go the much cheaper route and find a copy of the not-really-worse VHS. I went with the latter and so far have found three copies in good viewing condition for the total price of a McDonald's value meal. Sure, I'd snag the disc if ran across at a swap meet, but sellers trying to pass off copies for $130 are not of their right minds. I understand the desire for zen-like DVD symmetry. There are those out there who feel a slight tinge when looking at Fright Night all alone on their plastic movie coaster rack, but it seems nutty to blow such a collector's market chunk of change on such a limpdick attempt at a digital presentation.
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Video: Japanese VHS Collection

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Enjoy! Also this is obvious, but make sure to update your browser's Adobe Flash drivers. I noticed on a friend's computer yesterday that my uploaded videos looked trashed until I updated Flash...hey that rhymes...

Friday, December 11

The Austrian Japanese VHS Annoyance and Some eBayer Tips for Sellers

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So early last month, I'm combing eBay and run across a seller in Austria (who know, the land of Arnie and Fucking) with a plethora of Japanese pre-records. He's got a 100% feedback with many positive remarks from buyers, but shipping on each tape is a bear at $12.50USD for international standard air. Activity on the listings isn't bad though. So on November 7th, I entered the fray.

That night, I scored CIC's edition of Bruno Mattei's Double Target and Pony Canyon's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The "no other bid" minimum for each tape was $22 shipped, so I wanted to be very conservative with my selections and waved goodbye to what seemed like three dozen other cassettes that sold like hot cakes. I get no word from the buyer on these two until a week later when I win Columbia's Class of Nuke 'Em High. I then get an invoice with a note from the seller about the three not shipping until a week later because of work. Now granted, "work" can mean any number of things. Perhaps something unexpected came up on this end? Though let me say this: If you're an eBay seller, don't list anything if you know actual work is heavy and you'll be too busy to ship out items promptly. I can not tell you many how times I've had this happen and how incredibly annoying it is. As an eBay buyer, I always pay quickly, usually as soon as the auction ends. If I would have known the seller was going to pull this kind of shit; I wouldn't have paid as nearly as quickly. When this occurs, it feels as if the buyer is being punished for holding up his end of the transaction. Also honestly, I couldn't care less about most anything concerning said transaction until I'm holding the item in my very hands. So cut the make-nice bullshit sellers, I only want what I paid for, unless you want to cut a special deal with a buyer.

This is where the importance of tracking comes in. After that crap about delayed shipping, I didn't hear anything again from the seller. No shipping confirmation or even a quick sentence about finally shipping them off. Thirty-two days after initially winning Double Target and Henry; they arrived in my mailbox yesterday. Nuke 'Em High arrived a few hours ago. I'm glad I actually received them. After that much time, I was figuring the odds were 50/50. Though I did leave a kind message for the seller this past Monday and to his credit he responded same day. He told me to wait another week and if they don't show up he'll get the tracking number from the post office. Here's another big tip: if you have tracking number, always give it to the buyer ASAP after you ship the item(s). This is a big load off the mind even if it still takes a month to be plopped in the box. Especially if shipping across the damn globe or should I say central Europe. I don't know what it is about this area of the world, but I've received standard airmailed packages much faster from Britain, Hong Kong, and Australia. Order something standard airmail from say, France or Germany, and you might as well forget about it until it makes a surprise appearance.

So yeah, in the end I got 'em, after this quiet drama that could be easily avoided. One last thing for sellers, please don't fashion the package to look like an atypical pound of china white recovered in a drug bust. Both of the packages from this guy were roughed-up white paper over thin bubble wrap taped together with a roll of thick tan tape with crushed edges. I bet the tapes glow-in-the-dark from being ran through every security measure imaginable at every stop. One of the packages even has what looks like a strategically poked hole to make sure it's not the yayo. Argh, you can do it eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeebbbbbbbbaaaayyyy...
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Thursday, December 10

Wolfman's Got Silver Halide Crystal Nards!

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I don't have the disc yet myself, but judging by the screenshots on Blu-ray.com's review, The Monster Squad looks absolutely stellar on the format. The 1080p presentation even looks to best Sony's Night of the Creeps Blu-ray. I was especially interested in how Lionsgate would handle this high def release since their their otherwise long-deservingly fantastic 2-Disc DVD edition has a lackluster interlaced transfer (example here). This lack of progressive flagging drops the DVD's resolution by roughly 30% and it's always strange to see major studios produce comprehensive special editions only to bumble an important aspect of the feature's picture quality. Though it should go without saying the standard 480i definition presentation is still clearly superior to any prior home video release.

On the other hand, the Blu-ray's picture quality is clearly superior to the two-year-old DVD. Black levels might be a touch elevated, but the layer of natural grain that was entirely absent in the standard def picture looks completely untouched and well defined. What's even more impressive is that the grain is tight even in the darker shots where just a little noise reduction would have quickly erased that fine detail. Based on those shots, this is easily one of the best looking '80s productions I've seen on Blu-ray thus far and that's something to celebrate (and grab as soon as possible).

The reviewer refers to an odd anomaly of "...sections or bands of blurring across the top or bottom of the picture." This is actually an issue with the anamorphic 2.35:1 Panavision shooting method. I'm no expert, but supposedly this particular method in that era was very difficult to keep in perfect focus and often certain shots exhibit slight blur around the frame's edges. If you have a keen eye, this can also be seen repeatedly in John Carpenter's films since he favors the same process.

Who would have ever thought? The Monster Squad languished on a painfully cropped full screen VHS for years until an extremely expensive and desired widescreen laserdisc arrived in Japan. Then suddenly Lionsgate dropped a dense special edition on DVD and now just a short time later we have a high def presentation that will be tough to beat for quite sometime. See? Technology can be the horrorhound's best friend! Best of all, this Blu-ray can be found for just a few bucks over a Hamilton.
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Wednesday, December 9

Some quick thoughts on I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

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This is the oldest film to have graced the pages of BoGD and it's an undeniable classic. Betsy Collins (Frances Dee), a nurse who travels to a secluded West Indies island to care for the catatonic wife of a wealthy plantation owner, finds the beauty of the tropics a thin veil for the deep entrenchment of mysticism and voodoo in the once-slave population. The owner, Paul (Tom Conway), is a man of worldly flare yet immense sorrow over the cognitive loss of his wife while his business partner, Wesley (James Ellison), sinks only further into alcoholism. Wesley's mother (Edith Barrett) harbors a dangerous secret involving the ill woman and the ritualistic voodoo practices held in the tall fields of the plantation.

Director Jacques Tourneur produces some astoundingly moody black and white photography, but what's most interesting is how the film treats race for its time. The black population is still deeply affected by the circumstances of their ancestors' forced arrival to the island and Betsy is naive to their plight only seeing the topical beauty of the place and its people. Through exchanges between her and these "natives", one gets the impression of a boiling tension just below the surface.

The central white characters, beside Betsy, are either troubled or clearly broken souls. Paul is not only in perpetual sadness by his wife's zombie-like state but also sees the island a place of sadness, death, and decay. Wesley is merely drifting through life as a worsening lush with his drinking leading to devastating results. There is a small measure of the white characters trying to dispel the voodoo elements as simplistic hocus pocus, but the display of these practices isn't trumped up for morbid curiosity (at least in horror film terms) and the underlying realization to the mystery seems the outcome of otherworldly rites as a way of crippling the old guard's hold on the island. Some have said the more obvious elements (like the insanely creepy sentinel Carre-Four) that make I Walked with a Zombie fall into the horror genre feel like a sidenote, but the horror rests in the way the island's black arts influence and envelop its central characters. What comes around, goes around...

As for Warner's DVD, paired in a double feature with Robert Wise's The Body Snatcher (1945), picture quality shows a vast clean-up, but the film didn't receive a painstaking restoration. Flecks, pops, slight frame fluttering, lite nitrate damage, and one really bad tear are apparent throughout, but this presentation looks far superior to Manga Films' Spanish DVD which was previously the only other digital release available.

Warner Home Video - U.S. | Manga Films (Yo anduve con un zombie) - Spain
4x3/progressive | 4x3 (stretched and zoomed in)/interlaced
English 1.0 on both


Tuesday, December 8

No Substantive Entry Today...

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...been negotiating a whoop ass deal...

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Monday, December 7

The Haywire Hayride, The Extra Hard Answers, and My Ackroydian Mug on Youtube

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Remember this awesome entry, Haunted Hayride, and I'm the ideas guy, way back in September? Well, much to my chagrin, the powers that be castrated the whole idea of holding a Halloween shindig to begin with. There was no clubhouse party, no ode to Roger Watkins, no chainless chainsaws buzzing off in the darkness, and not even a single mask. Hell, what did occur didn't even take place at night. The hayride happened, but in broad daylight at high noon with merely a few tacky Wal Mart window bat and haunted house stickies for the multitude of toddlers in attendance. Dammit. After all this I lost interest in posting an update. There's always next year since this was a case of planning too much too late, but it's still a great idea.

Congratulations to Steampunk of Age of Empire who correctly identified the first capture in BoGD's first-ever Extra Freakin' Hard Guess The Horror Screenshots challenge as the truly god awful Flight to Hell (2002) from Plankton director Massimiliano Cerchi. A pile of rancid Italian trash featuring the worst CG-rendered backgrounds in cinematic history that once and forever proves Bruno Mattei was certainly not the worst genre director the country produced. The second capture is from León Klimovsky's Saga of the Draculas (La saga de los Drácula) (1972). I was actually mistaken in my hints in the comments concerning this film. I thought this film hadn't received an official DVD release, but in fact Deimos Entertainment bowed an American SE DVD under the title The Dracula Saga. My copy is a DVD-R from "Halemark" under the Saga of the Draculas title and appears to have been sold at carnivals or traveling freakshows. The third capture is from Masaru Tsushima's The Haunted Lantern (Otsuyu: Kaidan botan-dôrô) (1998). A throwback to the classic Japanese ghost yarns from Shintoho which no one seems to have seen both in its native country or in America via its Central Park DVD. I'll throw up another one of these challenges in the future and maybe make it not so difficult.

I'm off this evening for I Walked with a Zombie with Warner's restoration after struggling to get through the poor Spanish DVD from Manga Films. Also if you haven't yet, check out my Youtube Channel and become my friend and such if you wish.
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...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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