Over at The Blood Sprayer, I'm not going to place all my find entries over there, but this was like my introductory article to the usual going-ons here. Click below to read and also click the scans for the large sizes. I'm going to try and pop in a Blu or DVD tonight, unsure what, but I'll post thoughts here tomorrow on whatever I watch!
I must admit, while I like Class of Nuke'Em High, I still don't love it aside from a go-to for some funny gags and nice counterprogramming to the widely loved mainstream teen comedies of the mid-'80s. As I assume Class was designed to be; a mix between the raunchy comedies Troma toiled away in before the success of The Toxic Avenger, a heavy dose of Toxie's disgusting aesthetic, and a good number of their 1984 breakthrough's cast. The best thing the constantly embattled indie studio usually does is hammer down lead couples that have a palpable chemistry on-screen and Class is no different. Janelle Brady and Gilbert Brenton emit exactly the right sense of a longstanding teen couple; even when gratuitously naked, drooling slime, or indulging in any combination of the usual Troma zaniness.
Rotund character actor Pat Ryan, who had a great run in '80s indie trash, is a highlight as the pushy nuclear plant operator. As do the honor society turned eye-lined, bone-nosed freak punks, The Cretins, especially leader Spike (Robert Prichard) and Pete (Gary Schneider) being Avenger vets. The gang also have one inspired sequence when the Cretins are expelled and in an act of defiance proclaim they're "the youth of today", "God bless America, limpdick!", and then break out into the The Star-Spangled Banner. The idiotic plant worker sent into the high school's basement only to be killed by the fantastic looking mutant child of Chrissy's biohazardous joint smoking is also hilarious. I guess I'll have to watch it more as I don't have any nostalgic memories of this one, but actually USA's Up All Night airings of its second 1991 sequel.
Troma's second Blu-ray release ever, the first being Poultrygeist, arrives with another 1080p lowish bitrate MPEG-4 AVC transfer on a single layer disc. I'm not going to blow smoke up your ass or tear it apart like "professional" Blu-ray review sites inevitably will, but Class looks decent enough for its basement budget with no restoration effort. There's print flecks, dirt, and reel change burns, but colors fare well with a layer of grain that pops up from time-to-time in the sharper shots.
The real problem is the standard Dolby 2.0 audio at a bottom-of-the-barrel bitrate of 224kbps. Dialogue is frequently very harsh, the omnipresent rock music background sounds like it's coming from an AM radio with a blown speaker, and the volume is extremely low. While I can appreciate Blu-ray's lossless, "tranparent-to-the-master" audio types; I'm not one to complain about sound quality as long as it's relatively clear. Not here, the sound really sucks, and even Media Home Entertainment's old VHS seemed better in my memory. Troma should either remaster their soundtracks somewhat or at least provide PCM versions of the shitty tracks so as to be a little better than Dolby. The Blu-ray retains all the extras found in Troma's trilogy DVD box set (w/ the Kaufman commentary), but lacks the Kaufman with cast commentary of the standalone DVD. Still, this Blu-ray is probably worth the $15 if you're a fan and yes, this is Troma's usual 85 minute "unrated director's cut" and not the fabled 96 minute Japanese DVD cut.
I haven't seen this one yet, but I've enjoyed everything I've ever seen from Lamberto Bava, even Graveyard Disturbance which belongs with this feature in the Brivido giallo series of Italian made-for-TV horror movies. The others, also directed by Bava, are Until Death (Per sempre) and Demons 3: The Orge (La casa dell'orco). Mya Communications have released Dinner along with Death and Disturbance stateside; while Shriek Show released Demons 3 awhile ago. This Japanese disc has English audio, but is non-anamorphic with the Mya disc sporting an anamorphic transfer. Still, I like Pioneer's total cover art way more. It's funny to think that a television movie barely known today even in its native country has vastly better artwork than a slew of better known horror titles.
The head of the refreshing The Blood Sprayer asked me to join their wonderful staff as a writer based on the extreme meganess of BoGD and I humbly accepted. My first article was written yesterday and published today, Revisiting the Land of the Dead - Five Years On. Please check it out by clicking below and don't worry--BoGD will live on!
The two simply don't mix. This especially holds true for the country of Japan and scissored up media on home video. Hell, as long as genitalia is optically censored, it's fine to have a chick spraying hapless naked obese men and shaved farm animals with an arrant stream of milk and fertilizer cut forth from her...well, this a "hard R" blog after all. Anyway, veterans of the whole Interneting thing know this from merely existing in the perils of cyberspace, but in applying this to horror fans, those who experienced the import VHS wars before the days of DVD also know of Japan's uncensored trustworthiness. Japan, The Netherlands, and Greece were the reigning champions of usually widescreen, uncut copies of virtually every horror film floating around in existence. It's were diehards and bootleggers alike looked for reference length presentations.
Imagine my surprise when I popped in the Japanese DVD of David Blyth's Death Warmed Up and found it to be several minutes shorter (78 minutes, 11 seconds) than the domestic Vestron Video VHS (82 minutes, 23 seconds). Well, maybe the credits or something are cut off? Nope, checking out the violent bits revealed the awful truth--footage was missing. The parts left intact are the squib-happy shotgunning of a couple, a millisecond head explosion, and some open brain surgery. Missing are some gloriously spurting flesh wounds and one nasty flying rebar impalement.
My second viewing of this film went down much smoother and my previous comment of myself "warming" to it came true--there's definitely something strangely charming about this heady downunder sci-fi/horror/Mad Max-infused mix. At least I didn't pay much for the disc on eBay. Here's a scan of the Japan Video Distribution's DVD and some raw captures for those curious about the disc's quality which is a 4x3 full frame, interlaced video master that does look better than the VHS. Still censored though...
On the VHS, this nurse is seen writhing in agony in close-up with blood spraying from her chest.
Braindead (Dead Alive) fans will know Ian Watkin as Lionel's nosy and repugnant Uncle Les.
For me, VHS died as the "preferred viewing" format the moment I received my first DVD player as a gift in late 1998--about one year after the digital disc that would be king debuted. After that VHS was honestly dead to me as a viable option if a DVD version was also available. Yet millions soldiered on with their tapes and the format endured for a couple of years in the face of rising disc sales. Though the writing was on the wall by the time the '00s were half over and major chains like Best Buy, Wal Mart, and Blockbuster began phasing out the bulky cassettes with the road cleared for DVD by 2006. Major studio releases on VHS also ended the same year with New Line's A History of Violence. That was effectively "it" despite the final nail being hammered in 2008 when the last major VHS replicator called it quits. Tape-based home video was thrown on the trash heap of history for obsessive dorks who care far too much about bullshit to dive in head first.
So these two tapes, along with 2005's Saw 2 (the third sequel never made it) and The Devil's Rejects, represent the last major Horror releases on North American VHS. I actually had no idea these even made it to tape before last year while digging around Amazon. Lionsgate's Saw cover is a barely re-purposed take on their first DVD's cover; however, Universal's Land of the Dead features a fairly unique artwork layout compared to their DVDs. Land's cassette is also different with the two tape spools having black plastic reels like an old reel-to-reel machine and a face label sticker. On the other hand, Saw is a flimsy cassette with the title sloppily screened on the plastic in white. It's kinda nice Romero's last "proper" ...of the Dead sequel graced VHS since Dawn of the Dead proved wildly popular on the format ever since its early '80s home video debut from Thorn EMI.
Note how Big Daddy is mysteriously doubled in the back's zombie crowd...
Wes Craven, ermm, what happened? 1991's The People Under the Stairs typifieseverything that was wrong yet in an odd way right about early '90s horror. It's such a jumbled hodgepodge of over-the-top antics and half baked social commentary that it seems "off" director Craven also wrote the screenplay. Wait a minute, he wrote The Hills Have Eyes Part II, right? Craven tiptoes about the notion of racial redistricting; the racist practice of concentrating minority populations in geographical areas for the benefit of continued support of those district's elected officials while they in turn keep those they represent under their thumb.
Instead of political figureheads, Craven makes the antagonists a "man/woman" pair of demented, racist, and paranoid real estate mavens bent on keeping an African American community in poverty while they accrue generational wealth from the raw dealing. Not to mention the "couple" stealing babies, keeping them in their basement as cannibalistic vagabonds, wearing bondage gear while blasting holes in walls with a 12 gauge, and keeping a "daughter" in mortal fear 24/7. That sounds so juicy, and it should have been, but the whole thing comes off ridiculously wafer thin. The problem is People Under the Stairs trades its testicles for theatrical watchability, like many mainstream horror flicks of those first few years of the Seinfeld decade, just a diverting night at the movies rather than something with resonance.
And that's perfectly okay, one of my personal casual "throw-ins" happens to be this very film. It's just that the telegraphed guffaws of the bumbling maniacs, "likable" kid lead, and general sense of "safeness" really hamper the potential impact of its weighty ideas. Despite the word "nigger" tossed around a few times, the overly mad couple actually nearly come off as likable as the one-liner laden boy trapped in their fortress-like home. If Craven insisted on "going there", why didn't he make them real pigheaded scumbags, like Fred Phelps on steroids on PCP-laced crank. Instead of stealing what appear to be white children, why not make African American babies transform from years of brutal neglect into oatmeal-faced maneater savages? That would have made the community "Mommy" and "Daddy" control so much more pissed off at their oppressors once the truth is revealed. Hell, you wouldn't have needed dynamite to blow up that house once that cat tore out of its bag. There's a slew of minor tweaks that could have been made to make The People Under the Stairs substantially more powerful than just goofy fun dancing around serious topics. At least we have the following year's Candyman for compelling racial subtext.
However there is one scene in People Under the Stairs that genuinely approaches something of greater interest. The boy, "Fool", is captured and forced to watch his sister's boyfriend (Ving Rhames) gorily gutted like a deer by the Man with bloody chunks being thrown to feed the people under the stairs. Of course, the streetwise boy merely cringes like he's smelling some bad bologna at the most horrific sight ever in his young life, but what makes the scene so disturbing is the smear of blood on the Man's lips. It's just a small touch that's incredibly subversive, yet sadly mostly missing in the rest of Craven's biding of time before the acclaim of Scream. I also liked the tiny bit right afterward with the (100 pounds soaking wet) feral Roach propping up the (250 pound) mutilated carcass out of the dead pit to divert the attention of the mutants away from the boy. For a second you're truly like "WTF?!" as the ripped up corpse rises from the dead before The People Under the Stairsfalls back into its MPAA safety net.
I've heard some say that Neil Marshall's debut, Dog Soldiers, has been deemed great werewolf horror merely because of the dearth of any "real" examples of the subgenre for so long. There is some truth to this with the only lycanthrope romps of note in the few years prior to this 2002 feature being the fantastic Ginger Snaps and perhaps '96's Bad Moon. I would mention An American Werewolf in Paris and the last few Howling sequels, but they fucking sucked. Yet Dog Soldiers is indeed a solid werewolf flick; the underused/misused mythical creatures are married with a great tough guy siege mentality which elevates the proceedings past what otherwise would have probably been an average programmer.
Marshall's secret isn't the ever-so-welcoming presence of some excellent practical wolf suits, animatronics, and effects. The focus on honing the ill-fated military squad as believably "lived-in" is what good writing and filmmaking is all about. Instead of simply relying on the effects work or concept, the evenly paced Dog Soldiers shares the narrative glue that holds similar greats like Predator and The Thing together. The gruff Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, and stone cold Liam Cunningham deservingly receive top-billing being perfectly cast. Saying all this, I believe the director's following film, The Descent, is slightly superior by placing horror all around the protagonists trapped in forever dark, inescapable surroundings instead of a cottage stronghold by night. That and Dog Soldiers feels a bit long in the tooth (pardon the pun)at 105 minutes and its later twists get top heavy in the believability department. Here's to looking forward to Marshall's impeding Centurion and hoping the scatterbrained Doomsday was merely a fluke.
Moving on to First Look's Blu-ray, this film has had a hard road on home video stateside. First, the now rolled into Lionsgate Artisan Entertainment released a DVD in 2002 with producer commentary, making-of featurette, and two theatrical trailers. Then the mysteriously 20th Century Fox-distributed "Key DVD" picked up the film for a DVD that mirrored the Artisan right down to the cover art. Then Key altered the cover into this terrible abomination. Key disappeared into the void and First Look Studios took the reigns of video distribution with a DVD with the cover seen above along with the extras seen on the Artisan and Key editions. All seemed finally settled, but then First Look issued a limited DVD edition in Steelbook packaging without any extras! Sadly this is where we are with the studio's Blu-ray. Despite including both the Blu and DVD, this edition has zero extras whichever presentation you choose.
As for the Blu-ray's 1080p MPEG-4 AVC-encoded picture quality, detail is really no better than the standard definition discs. Dog Soldiers was shot in Super 16mm and blown up to 35mm. This mixed with the dark, guerrilla style of shooting makes for an extremely grainy appearance with low image resolution. First Look probably didn't care much in the creation of this Blu-ray, so any slight edge the high def image has is just the result of the advanced encoding method of the format. If anything, this is basically a better DVD presentation and it would take a caring hand to make an up to snuff Blu-ray transfer. The lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio also isn't terribly better than the standard Dolby 5.1 track.
I've said this before, but watching a classic such as this is both a privilege and quite humbling. The experience is also intimidating as a "horror aficionado" with most genre product prior to Romero's ushering in of the modern age with Night of the Living Dead being far out of my forte. It's simply easier to write fluffy sentences about crap slashers and messy Karo syrup explosions than to even trend onto the hollowed grounds of such a foundational criterion like Bride of Frankenstein. Not to mention both of Whale's classics being event films with gala premieres, something that truly hasn't occurred in the genre for decades, and it feels wrong watching them on such a relatively tiny screen. Despite being afraid of insulting the genre even by attempting to write about James Whale's classic, I'll trek onward, as I viewed both Frankenstein (1931) and its 1935 sequel last night.
The reason I chose to expound upon Whale's reluctant follow-up is because, and this is sheer heresy, I've never particularly cared for Frankenstein. While I admire its Expressionist influences and the impact of Whale's carry-over of this German style into the American horror vernacular, as a whole the film feels like a rough draft with only (albeit very bright) glimmers of greatness saddled by lighthearted farce and the creaky formalism of its time. Chiefly Boris Karloff's magnificent make-up and childlike characterization of the Monster and his creator's bold-to-this-day proclamation of knowing "what it feels like to be God!" after his creation awakens are what makes Frankenstein so memorable. In contrast, Bride of Frankenstein feels unbridled, presumably from Whale given much more artistic freedom, and manages to surpass the original in every way.
It's interesting that Whale appears to have wanted this sequel to be a "memorable hoot" believing it couldn't be superior to his original. What makes that even more curious is that the levity in Bride is mostly relegated to the first half with the boisterous Minnie shouting about everything and the technically great special effect of Doctor Pretorius's "little people"; while the cantankerous Baron Frankenstein is more evenly spread throughout Frankenstein. Once Bride hits stride with the Monster's incarceration and escape, Whale seemingly forgets about the comedy and really crafts the tired adage of "one of the greatest horror films of all time" that only gets better by the minute.
If I had to quibble about aspects after this point in the feature, I can't understand the point of the Monster--inadvertently or not-- killing another little girl during his frenzied prison break. Karloff builds an ever wiser character in this sequel that increasingly understands right and wrong. While the Monster still has a very immature mental age, the murder of a girl here just seems tossed in to appease those who didn't catch the subtly of the original's girl by the lake and what that said about the Monster. Also it would have been more satisfying for Colin Clive's Henry Frankenstein to have a fleshed out sense of ownership, abstract love, and blind devotion towards his creation. Even concerning the original, you'd think after enduring all that to create life using his bare hands Frankenstein would "stick" with his creation rather than join the bloodthirsty mob and wish to completely awash himself of the monstrous burden in Bride. Frankenstein's transition from mad doctor to flustered entity is like the flip of one of his castle's electrical levers.
This is where Ernest Thesiger's deliciously sinister Doctor Pretorius comes in as the catalyst (along with some nefarious kidnapping) for Frankenstein to agree to the creation of a mate for his Monster. Pretorius is essentially an older, wry version of Frankenstein without the shred of conscious anchoring the younger doctor. Pretorius also snaps into a more traditional rendition of the genre's "mad doctor" character type and Thesiger seems to relish every wrinkled sneer and roll of the tongue. Clive's Frankenstein still has the look and sound, but Thesiger's grandiose delivery does loom large in every sequence graced with his appearance. There's also an inspired sequence that breaks the film's segmented feel when Pretorius quietly signals the Monster to kidnap Frankenstein's squeeze as he closes a door after presenting the hulking thing that should not be to his creator.
Boris Karloff's protests over the Monster speaking for this sequel were thankfully overruled. That sounds harsh considering the actor/make-up master's immense contributions to the genre, but the sparse lines work to give viewers even more empathy with his character and the scenes with the blind villager might be his best acting work. Karloff's make-up is revised from his threadbare appearance in the original with a progressively decayed, tattered, and dejected look matching the Monster's entirely unwanted presence in the world he inhabits. The Monster's final ominous lines are also instantly memorable and rank among the most powerful in the horror genre. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Dwight Frye's greasy fumblings as Frankenstein's minion of dastardly deeds.
Though Elsa Lanchester, despite merely screaming and hissing, damn near usurps Karloff as the Bride in the incredible climax. The Bride's appearance after a vast, elaborate creation sequence is honestly tear-inducing in its perfection. John Mescall's stark gothic cinematography and Franz Waxman's playfully whimsical score kick into full swing as Thesiger delivers the icing on the cake with his announcement of "the bride of Frankenstein". The loving close-ups of Lanchester as the bullet-eyed, twitchy Bride are absolutely breathtaking and it's a shame her image along with most of the imagery found in the Universal's monster classics is now considered kitsch for kid's Halloween parties. Whale's screen adaptions of Mary Shelley's novel did much to legitimatize the genre and I guess that's more important than the sacrifice into their status nowadays. They truly can't make films like Bride of Frankenstein anymore without being considering pure parody, but at least the bygone examples from the golden age of horror are so damn good.
Kinda strange that I found the Thorn EMI tape this past weekend and the Anchor Bay the weekend prior both at yard sales. A shame this one just missed Anchor Bay's clamshell VHS days and arrived in the boring slim box below. I also didn't realize Thorn EMI ever released it before yesterday. Last time I saw Madman was on IFC after midnight of all places a few weeks ago...
I know what you're thinking. Does he really mean Meatballs? Yes and I'm not referring to an extremely obscure gore flick where some maniac replaces his male victim's testicles with everyone's favorite meaty pasta accoutrement. Ivan Reitman's 1979 summer camp comedy, Meatballs, has been a favorite of mine outside the realm of cinematic head cleavings for longer than I can remember. It's curiously innocuous when compared to other teen comedies of the early '80s period, especially its raunchy mirror Summer Camp, and predates much of the horror genre's camp hackers like Friday the 13th, The Burning, and Madman. I mean, there isn't really even a hint of adult innuendo to be inferred anywhere in Reitman's breakout film behind the camera after producing John Landis's Animal House. That's extremely commendable and something seemingly lost in today's marketplace of continually winking at narcoleptic parents dragged to whatever Dreamworks-produced CG animal garbage their kids begged to see.
For that aspect alone while still being highly entertaining, Meatballs deserves its cult status, but Reitman and writers (including Harold Ramis) quietly give the film a higher purpose. Bill Murray's impromptu "stand-upish" speech in the later half in which he advises that "it just doesn't matter" whether his camp wins the games against the opposing "rich kid" camp is extremely potent in message. Of course, you could tie that phase into the current softie mentality of "everyone wins" and the banning of dodgeball from gym class, but you must consider this comedy's intended audience. Laying it out so plainly is refreshing in an age of parents having aneurysms at little league games and kids perhaps being forced into concise multi-tasking between school, sports, playing an instrument, mastering some vague form of martial art, and planning years in advance at ridiculously early ages. Who won what just doesn't matter when looking back on the experience of summer camp, or childhood in general, and Tripper's simple message reverberates through Meatballs's situational comedy as well as the rather throwaway tender story of Tripper trying to get a boy to break out of his shell. It's just a nice, sunny slice of Canadian comedic nothingness that's equally as nice to visit once and awhile with no need to squirm if kids stumble into the same room.
So where's the damn Blu-ray edition, Sony? The studio actually announced Meatballs back in the early days of the format. Then the title was unceremoniously pulled from its scheduled June 5th, 2007 release with no explaination and still has yet to resurface. I remember a rumor flying around that Sony felt their then-newly minted high definition master wasn't up to snuff, but that doesn't seem right after finally watching their '07 Special Edition DVD last night. The image quality is excellent for standard def and would have made (or will make) a fantastic Blu-ray. The colors look tinkered with, but detail is strong and it's a continuing shame the studio hasn't placed this one back into the Blu-ray loop.
If it's tough to call Pericles Lewnes's Redneck Zombies a "zombie classic", then it should hopefully be easier to call it one of the best shot-on-video horror flicks ever made. In one of the interviews on the new Tromasterpiece DVD, Lewnes makes the point that his 1987 SoV wonder plays best to smart horror fans that understand the backbreaking rigors of such filmmaking. Not to say some horror fans are stupid, but I couldn't agree more that it's very important taking Lewnes's assertion into consideration while watching. Sure, it's a super-amateurish cheeseball, but Redneck Zombies has an undeniable souland much like Peter Jackson's Bad Taste, Lewnes mines tremendous mileage from its dumb premise. In a way, the zeal of those involved and "fullness" Lewnes pulls from the simple story through comedy is the best testament to the film's enduring popularity. It's deceptively challenging to look past Redneck Zombies's goofy, splattery facade, but so worth it, as it speaks for itself and hits much more than misses. Most of the time, SoVs either have better cover art than their actual content or were solely made to sell the cover art to unwitting renters, but Lewnes's undead hillbilly opus delivers exactly what it promises. They're Tobacco Chewin', Gut Chompin', Cannibal Kinfolk from Hell!
Concerning the freshly color-corrected transfer on the new 20th Anniversary Edition, I'm unsure I care for the brightened picture and amped up coloration. There isn't much that could be done in regards to image detail being shot on '80s-grade standard definition video (probably Betacam). Though for some reason subtle blurring has been employed, not so much noise reduction, just a smoothing which I assume was done to give the video an even look. To me, the new transfer loses some of that analog magic of the prior disc. Also the beginning text scroll and psychiatric ward location/time text has been updated with a new font. The extensive extras are what save Troma's new disc. Just a fantastic package with a Lewnes/producer Ed Bishop commentary, a bunch of interview segments (including a still funny Ferd Mertz), deleted scenes, trailers (including one for Lewnes's Loop), and a Lloyd Kaufman/Pericles Lewnes "Kaufman's Kultural Korner" opening segment. Not to mention the CD soundtrack.