Thursday, September 30

The Original Slasher Mania (Slashermaniacs 1) (1990) - Parade Video VHS

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Way back in the early days of this blog, I briefly talked about an obscure horror compilation entitled Slashermania 2. My father actually bought that tape years before I even considered buying a VHS for any reason. Now that I've been collecting, I still have yet to see that title anywhere and figured it was a "fo-sequel" gimmick in a ploy to sell copies. Much to my surprise I picked up the original last weekend for a buck and my opinion of Part 2 can be applied here.

It's another half hour of a few bad looking clips with no wraparound or host segments. This time we mostly thrill at a good chunk of the beginning of an extremely pink-colored Night of the Living Dead and multiple clips from Alice, Sweet Alice (that naturally spoil the killer's identity). Like the first volume's Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs, the front's promise of scenes from Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Dr. Phibes Rises Again are two trailers of horrible quality. These two compilations may be rare as hen's teeth, but they truly suck. Only buy if found at flea market prices. At least this one has better kitschy artwork...    

Wednesday, September 29

Pesadilla sangrienta (Vacaciones de terror 2 / Vacations of Terror 2: Diabolical Birthday) (1991) - 1995 Platino Video U.S. VHS

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Speaking of early forms of Anchor Bay, upon receiving this tape, I was surprised to see that "Platino Video" was a branch of Video Treasures. The EP-speed cassette has VT's usual cheap white stamping directly on the plastic as its label. An English-subbed presentation can be found on the out-of-print DVD of Deimos Entertainment's Horror from South of the Border, Vol. 1
Be sure to check out this hilarious review over at Bleeding Skull.

Monday, September 27

Hellraiser (1987) - 1988 New World Pictures VHS

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Perhaps more so than the Evil Dead series, if there's one modern horror classic spotted seemingly everywhere on tape in my travels, it would have to be Clive Barker's Hellraiser. Thanks to the early forms of Anchor Bay Entertainment, I've even once discovered a cassette squirreled away in a box at a church sale. Given their availability and cheap price, the gold-lined EP-speed tapes released by "Starmaker" were apparently dropped via Hercules transport by the tens of thousands across the country. Anchor Bay's later cheapie and double feature set with Hellbound sold like hot magnetic cakes as well. This is more a blessing than curse, as I don't believe Hellraiser would possess anywhere near the widespread prominence that it holds today with both horror and general movie fans alike without such dissemination.

The tiny downside being New World's original VHS falling into a soft obscurity in the wake of piles of re-releases. Much like the mostly forgotten debut Wizard Video Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Thorn EMI Evil Dead, and even New World's Hellbound. Aside from being the first home video of Barker's ingenious tale, there's nothing special about this edition. While the releases afterward arrived unrated, the version presented here is the MPAA's R-rated version.

Many resources indicate that only Julia's first hammer killing for Frank was trimmed. Upon watching it over the weekend; Frank's initial death, the last john being "drained" by Frank's hand tearing into his neck, the rat killings, and several hook shots ripping into Frank at the climax are also missing/trimmed. The brutal quick shot of the giant hook digging up Frank's spine is strangely intact. Despite being truncated, this version shows the hypocrisy of the rating board, their unevenness with judging a film's content, and preoccupation with the "tone" of graphic violence. The resulting Hellraiser is still profoundly disturbing both visually and contextually. It's amazing how the MPAA wasn't vastly harsher on this film considering their strictness forced upon masked killers slashing up horny teens just a few years earlier.
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Sunday, September 26

Check out this early VCR I snagged yesterday!

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Night of the Creeps (クリープス) (1986) - 1988 CBS/FOX Home Video Japan VHS

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Yes, it's on a fantastic Blu-ray (thanks again, Sony!), but this is still awesome...

Saturday, September 25

Some quick thoughts on Hatchet (2006) and Anchor Bay's Blu-ray

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I'm almost afraid to admit it took this long to check out Adam Green's Hatchet. Most know this already, but this brutal, Hodder-powered slasher made waves on the festival circuit to achieve an underground happy median of success both at the box office and home video. It didn't seem like that long ago when copies of Anchor Bay's unrated DVD clogged Wal Mart shelves. Still, I was unswayed and my stubbornness towards this "it" woodland hackfest was the marketing ploy. I'll tell ya right off the bat. My hatred towards features labeling themselves with preemptive proclamations of greatness is what drove my disinterest in Hatchet and colored what I witnessed last night. Something is either tremendously strained or played out when you hear monikers of "Old School American Horror" or "It's not a remake. It's not a sequel. And it's not based on a Japanese one."

If one took Hatchet's taglines at their word, it might be "original" material, but besides that I assume Green's idea of old school red, white, n' blue horror consists of the usual caricatures aimlessly running around the woods while dodging an incredibly pissed off, deformed manbeast. This purposeful approach to the well worn concept almost feels condescending to slasher fans. Tits, bimbos, and wanton gore. Despite not being too from the truth, laying it out in such a direct way makes this exercise seem more an ode to the subgenre, not the "holy grail" or "rebirth" or "homecoming" of the slasher both itself and some reviews have purported Green's horror debut to be. The true offerings of the '80s heyday predominantly existed as a popular box office reflex; not winking reflections of themselves like this film. So I struggle with even calling Hatchet what it demands everyone deem it. I'd even go as far as to call such derided stuff like Venom or House of Wax more deserving of resting among the slasher proper.

So I found Hatchet needlessly self-referential and unusually slow, even after the slaughter began, but Kane Hodder is undeniably the man. The imposing ex-Voorhees hulk rampages through victim-after-victim in rip-roaring gory glee. Blood can't wait to spray from every direction upon every unwanted fleshy intrusion while sinewy chunks gloriously take flight amongst the bounty of mother nature. The underrated John Carl Buechler delivers some of the best stateside practical gore effects in years in the sad absence of Tom Savini. The combination of Hodder's raging performance and the unabashed display of blood platelets just makes it even more baffling it wasn't Kane's destiny to continue in his trademark Friday the 13th character. In fact, Victory Crowley might be the best generic backwoods killer in the genre since Jason.

Anchor Bay's unrated director's cut Blu-ray, currently just $15 at the Great Satan Wal Mart, simply looks excellent with a 1080p 1.85:1 transfer encoded in MPEG-4 AVC. Everything from the bright daytime Mardi Gras scenes from the oppressive darkness of Crowley's abode feature great color, depth, and fine grain structure. The blacks levels are a little pushed, but the studio deserves much praise for presenting Hatchet with stellar treatment that could be likened to a major studio's blockbuster BD output. The audio fares a little blander with the lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track revealing some budgetary limitations. On-location dialogue sounds a bit mismatched at times as well as the occasional obvious ADR. All of the extras of the prior unrated DVD make it here along with a new commentary with Green and Hodder.
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Friday, September 24

Dream No Evil (1970) - 1985 Active Home Video VHS

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To make a long story short, I recently ordered a tape of the rare Fatal Images (1989) from Amazon's Marketplace. Yesterday, after getting a shipping notice several days prior, I suddenly receive a refund with a nonsensical explaination (account adjustment?!?). I guess the seller dubbed "mjentertainment" decided to renege on the deal after discovering how rare the tape is compared to how low their price was. What-the-fuck-ever. So in lieu of an entry on that flick, here's a scan of John Hayes's Dream No Evil released by the same little known video distributor. This copy is still factory sealed and needless to say I haven't seen this one yet. VCI has released the film to DVD in their "Psychotronica" set with five other cult obscurities.      

Tuesday, September 21

Synapse Films Finally Announces Their Debut Blu-ray Release...

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I'm a few days late on this tidbit from DVD Drive-In, but this great news bears repeating even if you're already aware. The head of Synapse, Don May Jr., is a virtuoso at preserving and championing picture quality on not only his studio's output but also extensive restoration work on titles like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead. Given MGM's absorption into 20th Century Fox, Robert Young's Vampire Circus, along with the Fox-owned Twins of Evil, were speculated to be arriving in MGM's Midnite Movies double feature series. That obviously isn't happening and this situation is a much better reality for the feature and fans. I have no hesitation in recommending a blind pre-order on this BD/DVD combo given Synapse's excellent track record in the standard definition realm.

The studio has been very cautious about entering into Blu-ray, especially during the initial format war, and May has stated their releases in the relatively new format will be SD/HD combo packages like this title. Also expect the extra features to be on the DVD edition while the Blu-ray will be feature-only (more room for the HD encode) since most of their supplements are 480p anyway. Synapse are also rumored to be unveiling a Blu-ray re-issue Radley Metzger's The Image in January and a combination of the first two 42nd Street Forever volumes in February. We'll see...

Synapse has officially announced to DVD Drive-In that they will be releasing the Hammer Horror classic VAMPIRE CIRCUS at the end of 2010 as a Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack. This is the first time that the film has officially been available on disc in North America, and in stunning High-Definition. The SRP is $29.95. TWINS OF EVIL and HANDS OF THE RIPPER will be announced in the coming months for release some time in 2011.

Blood-Curdling Special Features Include: THE BLOODIEST SHOW ON EARTH: “Making Vampire Circus” - An all-new documentary featuring interviews with writer/director Joe Dante, Hammer documentarian Ted Newsom, Video Watchdog editor/author Tim Lucas, author/film historian Philip Nutman and actor David Prowse; GALLERY OF GROTESQUERIES: A Brief History of Circus Horrors - A retrospective on circus/carnival themed horror productions; VISITING THE HOUSE OF HAMMER: “Britain's Legendary Horror Magazine” - A retrospective on the popular British horror/comic publication featuring author Philip Nutman; VAMPIRE CIRCUS: Interactive Comic Book" - Featuring artwork by Brian Bolland; Poster And Stills Gallery; Original Theatrical Trailer. The extras were produced by Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.

Blu-ray Specifications:
  • 1.66:1 1920x1080p Widescreen encoded in MPEG-4 AVC
  • DTS-HD Master Audio English 2.0 Mono & DTS-HD Master Audio Music & Effects Track
  • English Subtitles
DVD Specifications:
  • 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Dolby Digital English 2.0 Mono & Dolby Digital Music & Effects Track
  • English Subtitles

Monday, September 20

Sunday, September 19

Dawn of the Dead (1978) - South Korean Yonsei Digital Media Co. DVD

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Never thought I'd find this at my swap meet rounds this morning. This is, of course, George A. Romero's seminal Dawn of the Dead on a shady grey market disc from the friendly Korean country. I remembering seeing this release on a few Korean DVD importer sites a few years ago, but never placed an order due to it looking like a bootleg. This NTSC/R0 disc arrived just before Anchor Bay issued their remastered Divimax edition. I guess Yonsei wanted to capitalize on the import market since the domestic discs were still out-of-print and expensive on the collector's market.

Knowledgeable horror video nuts probably recognize this cover's similarity to Anchor Bay's original director's cut flipper with art from Fulci's Gates of Hell and Zombie sneaked in there. The version included is actually Anchor Bay's hybrid 128 minute cut that's essentially the 127 minute theatrical cut with extra snippets of Joe Pilato and the dimwit asking for smokes at the dock. So yeah, the transfer is most likely ripped from the old stateside "U.S. Theatrical Version" release. Non-anamorphic, interlaced widescreen with zero extras on a dual layer disc. Still nifty to find a couple miles away (for two bucks!) and it'll sit with my other foreign discs of Dawn. Always found it interesting as well that these old discs have a much more neutral color appearance while Anchor Bay's Divimax casts a somewhat piss yellow hue over the entire feature. I'm betting the former is what's actually intended...

Saturday, September 18

The Trap (1966) - 1985 Independent United Distributors VHS

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Shifting around some of my collection today and ran across this extremely hard to find tape of Sidney Hayers's The Trap starring Oliver Reed. To my knowledge, this is the only video release the film has yet to receive in North America. What makes this tape even rarer is the obscure distributor, which was the reason I picked it up in the first place.

Thursday, September 16

Some quick thoughts on the Blu-rays of Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Versus (2000)

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My love for Dan O'Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead traces back to the earliest of my formative experience with horror. I've referred to this a couple times here before, but ROLD was a favorite on the weekend horror double feature that aired on my local Fox affiliate in the late '80s/early '90s. They ran this zombie comedy so much that it became the movie, aside from Ghostbusters, that I most associate with my childhood. Of course, being the TV version, I only realized how Trash came to wear rags later in the runtime years later.

O'Bannon's gifted writing talent shines through in the screenplay and does something that's relatively lost today in this type of horror picture. Even with juggling so many, the characters are so realistic and immediately identifiable that you can't help but care about their flesh-eating plight--in between laughing your ass off. Nowadays, the living in these romps seem like the last thing cared about by filmmakers more concerned with jamming in an overkill of undead antics. It seems widely believed the lighthearted take on the zombie subgenre is what made ROLD the '80s classic that it is today. That's only one ingredient with the fanastic, lived-in performances of the ensemble cast, there are no heroes, being the real anchor. Linnea Quigley at her sexual screen peak running around all naked before turning in an equally naked zombie seductress is also a stroke of genius by the Alien screenwriter.

So finally, MGM answered the high def prayers of ROLD's throngs of fans with the debut of a Blu-ray/DVD combo package this past Tuesday. Cutting to the chase, the 1080p/24 MPEG-4 AVC-encoded transfer is solid, but hardly revelatory for those familiar with the studio's two prior DVDs. The same high definition telecine as those 480p discs is used on this BD and I suspect was manipulated a bit several years ago. The picture, for the most part, lacks the high frequency detail associated with excellent Blu-ray transfers. Not anywhere as smoothed and processed as Anchor Bay's Day of the Dead, but never exhibiting the stunning, virtually untouched appearance of New Line's A Nightmare on Elm Street Blu-ray. Even the rather flat color doesn't seem too different. The only "new" aspect noticed, at times, was a better sense of depth between the actors and objects on-screen. So unfortunately, ROLD kinda sorta looks like the already strong DVDs (especially when well-upscaled), no matter how many say otherwise. Those who aren't in love with O'Bannon's cult classic are advised to be cautious or wait until it's cheaper if solely interested in PQ.

Both the lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 and standard Dolby 2.0 split-mono tracks are the "altered" audio heard on MGM's DVDs. TSOL's Nothing for You is indeed still missing. Also the Tarman's voice, the "send more..." zombie voices, Calfa's German storm comment, and Roky Erickson's Burn the Flames are all lowered in volume. The good news being the front heavy lossless track having a clear edge over the muddy mono track. All of the extra features from the Collector's Edition DVD (also included) are retained on the Blu-ray edition in standard def. The two ROLD theatrical trailers are presented in 1080p/24 HD.    

Moving on to Ryûhei Kitamura's Versus, it doesn't really need an introduction. This was the poster child for the explosion of fresh Far East oddities that flooded American shores in the early '00s. Aside from Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale, Versus is also possibly the most bootlegged Japanese film in the last twenty years. So another official home video release is a harder sell than usual. Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters certainly doesn't make it any easier; all three of their DVD releases have been no great shakes in the A/V department. The studio's standard def discs featured shoddy interlaced transfers and the two Theatrical Version editions only sporting standard Dolby 5.1 audio. The Blu-ray released a few weeks ago rectifies some of the problems but also introduces a few questions.

Blu-ray enthusiasts have been weary of Media Blasters after their BD of Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer. Although not a "pretty" film, the U.S. Blu-ray is plagued by ugly artifacts to the point that it's akin to a digital slurry with no advantage over their DVD. Charges of the HD presentation actually being a DVD upscale flew about and the same accusations have started to circulate around Versus. The 1080p/24 MPEG-4 AVC-encoded transfer of the 119 Minute Theatrical Version isn't a stunner by any stretch. The image is never once tack sharp and softness abounds. Here's the thing, the transfer simply doesn't have the blotchy thickness seen in SD upscales on Blu-ray. There's no edge enhancement and it's easy to see sharpness (and grain) vary from shot-to-shot. Given Kitamura's frenzied style, the post production application of strong color hues, and the film's low budget--I doubt this is 480p upscaled to 1080p. It's just a cheap, guerrilla action epic on Blu-ray. There's also flecks and pops of "tight" print damage and an occasional "flutter" effect that gives off a theatrical exhibition vibe. This transfer looks noticeably better than the blurry Tokyo Shock theatrical cut, Japanese KSS Films theatrical cut, and Japanese Geneon ultimate cut DVDs.

The lossless Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 and 5.1 tracks are fucking awesome. If the picture doesn't thrill, the booming sound quality definitely will. I'm fairly certain Versus's soundtrack was originally stereo, so I'd suggest the option over the oddly distant 5.1 mix. The yellow, italicized English subtitles are high resolution. All the extra features of Tokyo Shock's 2-DVD Special Edition are on this Blu-ray. Don't tell anyone, but out of the two Blu-rays talked about in this entry, I'd be more inclined to recommend Versus.
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Wednesday, September 15

Just too good to be true...

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I found this advert while digging through an old box of comics the other day. It's for the ill-fated Vampirella feature film from Hammer. By 1976, Hammer was just about a cooked goose with a string of bombs like The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, Shatter, and To the Devil, a Daughter. This had the potential to be tremendous, but never came to be under the once-famed studio. Read more about this troubled production over at Unofficial Hammer Films.

Tuesday, September 14

War Dog (1986) - 1987 Channel Video Japan VHS

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By the special request of David Zuzelo of the great TOMB IT MAY CONCERN, here's the Japanese VHS scan of the violent Swedish actioner, War Dog (Wardogs: The Assassination Team). The U.S. tape from Vista Video is edited of several seconds depicting children machine-gunned to death; while this Japanese is of course fully uncut. You can check out my thoughts on the flick here
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Monday, September 13

The Seducers (Death Game) (1977) - 1981 Video Gems Artbox VHS

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As VHS collectors, it should be a special duty to save these Video Gems releases from the further ravages of time. The vinyl cases these releases arrived in are so extremely delicate. This particular one has some dirt, scuffs, and a spine that has cracked off the clamshell underneath. This re-titled tape of Peter Traynor's Death Game is also quite rare given its age with VCI's subsequent VHS and DVD releases much more prevalent.  

Sunday, September 12

R.I.P. Kevin McCarthy (1914-2010)

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Despite such memorable genre turns in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Howling, Piranha, and Twlight Zone: The Movie...
your presence made even absolute crap like Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go To College worth it.

Retribution (1987) - 1989 CBS/FOX Home Video Japan VHS

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After leaping off his apartment building in a suicide attempt, a lonely artist (George, Dennis Lipscomb) finds his soul replaced with that of a tortured and murdered mafia thug bloodthristy for vengeance. With the help of a psychiatrist (Leslie Wing), George is released from hospital, but is plagued by nightmares. He soon finds himself committing heinous killings upon unfamiliar victims while aslept...or so he thought. As the spree continues, George is inexplicably drawn to people surrounding the murder whom he doesn't know and gradually pieces together who he actually is while his violent possession gets ever restless.

Checking out Guy Magar's Retribution the other night, I couldn't shake the impression that it's the type of horror film ripe for a Hollywood re-imagining. Given how involved Magar was in the production (directing, writing, editing), it's obvious this was a labor of love, but the end result might have suffered. There just isn't the type of metaphysical, Cronenberg-esqe edge Retribution needed to sustain interest over a 109 minute duration. It's simply too by-the-numbers with a workmen-like feel as already well understood plot details are continually hammered again-and-again. This should have been a thinking man's piece; not something struggling with feeling like another forgotten, cookie-cutter '80s feature.

Limpscomb doesn't enliven his character with any flare or much likability by being so damn vanilla (Vincent Price would have kicked ass in this role). So much so that no one would have cared and nothing would have changed if George had been successful in committing suicide at the start. This also makes George's friendship with a smitten lap dancer/prostitute, played by semi-scream queen Suzanne Snyder, ring untrue. Depending on your mood, Retribution will either be passably watchable or just wear you down. That's why the premise seems to have potential in a big-budget revisit. Well, that might merely end up in the same blandless by being too overblown.             

I'll have to make a confession about this tape. I actually haven't watched this release yet. Winning this Japanese VHS off eBay, I scored the domestic Virgin Vision VHS at a yard sale while waiting for its mailbox arrival. Although judging by this info at the IMDB, both tapes are edited anyway. There's three gory setpieces in which a woman disembowels herself with a knife, a slaughterhouse worker is psychically forced into a cow carcass and sawed in half on a conveyor, and a mechanic blowtorches his hand off and his head crushed. The cuts are fairly obvious, yet the excised footage only constitutes a couple seconds. You can watch the full R-rated version here (first kill at the start of Part 4) and a better quality uncut version starting here (uncut first kill in Part 3/8) on YouTube. On a final note, I thought that little picture of the knife-welding, red-dressed woman on the back looked familiar...
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Saturday, September 11

One of my Greatest Swap Meet Finds...

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One of the questions I'm often asked is how I manage to consistently find great stuff digging around old swap meets. Maybe I have a have a horseshoe stuck up my ass. I have no idea and sometimes things just seem to find me. Like this morning, I travel out aways to an open air swap meet that's only held twice a year. Prices seems higher than usual. Multiple tables featured ex-Blockbuster abused DVDs for five friggin' bucks. Or tapes of huge Hollywood hits for three bucks--insane, people! I end up begrudgingly dropping two on a Thorn EMI clamshell of Hit & Run (1983). Expectations aren't high and the area is packed with people mulling about. I probably should have just went to my regular haunts...

I then see a dude with some vintage toys a few aisles over and made a beeline over since things were looking bleak. Uneventful Star Wars, Star Trek, comics, and sport cards...meh. Wait, what's that stack of paper under the table? Oh, cool, old movie pressbooks that studios would send out to theaters to garner interest in showings and buying advertising. Suddenly, I see her name, "CHRISTINA LINDBERG", sticking out of the bottom in the middle. I almost shit myself right there. My eyes lock on the prize and I'm immediately prepared to maim the genitalia of anyone who dare reach over my shoulder at them. Passing by all others, there it fucking is. The U.S. pressbook for perhaps the greatest Exploitation film for all times, Bo Arne Vibenius's THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (Thriller - en grym film) (1974). Okay, Jayson, need to play this sly. "How much are these...ermm...magazines?" while holding up some other worthless movie's booklet. The young guy says "Uh, well, make me an offer..."

Well, fuck. That could mean anything. Does he know that he has the single most awesome fucking thing within a five mile radius...or not? I don't want to lowball him, that would just be insulting and embarrassing, and there's no way in hell I'm leaving without these eight sheets of twenty-some year old paper. I strategically place the booklet back into the stack's middle and grab up the bulk. I cautiously ask again. "Well, if you take them all...ten bucks." I tell you now friends that $10 has never been exchanged faster. I walk away with Rocky's victory tune and Bill Duke's reminisce about how he and Jesse Ventura slaughtered a bunch of little brown people without a scratch playing in my head. Indeed, one of my greatest swap meet finds...

Friday, September 10

Final Girl's Top 20 Horror Thingie and My Personal Top 20 Horror Favorites

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Stacie Ponder over at Final Girl has something mysterious up her sleeve for this coming October and wants everyone to submit their Top 20 horror favorites. So I figured my scant readership might enjoy hearing my favorites. I'm unsure what Ms. Ponder is exactly doing with them, but posting these here might void my contribution. I don't care though; listening to the Halloween soundtrack has got me in the genre listing mood...

20. Fright Night (1985)
19. The Vanishing (Spoorloos) (1988)
18. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
17. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
16. Martyrs (2008)
15. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
14. Phantasm (1979)  
13. At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma) (1963)
12. Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man) (1994)
11. The Evil Dead (1981)
10. Black Sunday (Maschera del demonio, La) (1960)
09. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
08. The Thing (1982) 
07. Alien (1979) 
06. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
05. The Wicker Man (1973)
04. The Exorcist (1973)
03. Halloween (1978)
02. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
01. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
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Back Cover of MGM's Blu-ray/DVD Combo of The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

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Looks like MGM did this one right with porting the extras from the Collector's Edition onto the Blu-ray. 
1080p MPEG-4 AVC @ 24MBps and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 on a 25GB disc...we shall see this coming Tueday...

Some quick thoughts on Evil Clutch (Il bosco) (1988)

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A vacationing couple run afoul of a demon bitch seductress in the Swiss Alps (that is, some rural region of Italy). A Italo version of Friday's the 13th's Crazy Ralph tries to warn them while a rutty zombie is thrown into the mix and the Evil Dead riffs run wild...

Writer/Director Andreas Marfori's sole Italian horror entry is interesting in that it was the filmmaker's first feature. By 1988, the country's once-thriving film industry had hit the skids with the self-important arthouse not too far away. Most of the directors still slumming at these depths were seasoned personalities like Lenzi and Fulci trying to hold on to the last scrap of the dwindling market. So it's rather odd Marfori entered the sweepstakes so late and that Il bosco (The Woods) was made to start with.

That doesn't make this one much good though. That cheap, impossible-to-describe mirth that characterized the last gasp of Italian horror only comes in the last twenty minutes and even then it doesn't feel quite right. The biggest issue is the blatant runtime padding in getting to a tidy eighty-five minutes. There's long stretches of needless talk and aimless walks through the woods to get to various destinations. One could literally chapter skip or fast forward somewhere with the forty-five mark and still know what's going on. The only semi-interesting thing missed is psycho-babble from the Crazy Ralph-type that depicts some bloody Demons-like scenes that bite a little from Creepshow's Something to Tide You Over segment. The action finally picks up once the attractive demon, that sometimes travels in fast Evil Dead POV shots with electronic droning, and her couple prey get to dilapidated church in the woods. A zombie (or hobo in rags drenched in flour?) starts stalking around, our heroine's boyfriend takes a turn for the worse, and Crazy Ralph re-appears to save the day...or not.

That's about it for Evil Clutch, aside from some screamingly obvious Evil Dead riffing (even down to fog suddenly covering the moon) and decent share of low rent gore. Speaking of the gore, this DVD transfer from Troma in Toxie's Triple Terror #2 set has extremely crushed black levels. Basically, the blacks are so dense that any picture information in darker areas of shots is clipped (completely missing). This makes it nearly impossible to see what the hell is happening in the film's many nighttime sequences. You often find yourself trying to make sense of blobs of light clothing dancing across a solid 4x3 square of black. A shame really, Marfori scores some nice ghoulish shots during this time and the pitch blackness also makes the gore harder to enjoy by turning deep reds into either brown or black.
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Wednesday, September 8

Kmart's $5 Horror DVDs & Hasbro's Cuponk Let It R.I.P. (Beer Pong) Game

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Went to my local Kmart this afternoon after hearing via Freddy in Space's Facebook page that the chain has their Halloween section up and a new stock of cheap Horror flicks. Along with digging through a couple stands of discs (some others were $7.50 with some movie sets $10-15), I had to buy this nifty zombie mock beer pong game from Hasbro seen on the left. Here's the five buck titles I can remember (there were more):  
  • Dawn of the Dead '78 (Divimax, Anchor Bay Horror Collection slipcover)
  • Day of the Dead '85 (Divimax)
  • Halloween '78 (standard 16x9, Anchor Bay Horror Collection slipcover)
  • Hellraiser (standard 16x9, Anchor Bay Horror Collection slipcover)
  • The Hills Have Eyes '77 (Divimax single disc)
  • Children of the Corn (Anchor Bay Horror Collection slipcover)
  • Creepshow 2 (standard 16x9, Anchor Bay Horror Collection slipcover)  
  • Hellbound: Hellraiser 2
  • Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (Anchor Bay Horror Collection slipcover)
  • Return of the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (Anchor Bay Horror Collection slipcover)
  • Sleepaway Camp (Anchor Bay Horror Collection slipcover)
  • Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
  • Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
  • Masters of Horror: Pelts
  • Jason X (Platinum Series)
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street, Pt. 2: Freddy's Revenge 
  • Trick 'r Treat
  • Live Feed (Unrated)
  • Horror House on Highway 5
  • When Puppets and Dolls Attack! (Full Moon/Wizard Entertainment compilation)

Tuesday, September 7

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night's Trailer

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Longer day at work, so I'm keeping things leisurely this evening. This promotional trailer for Kevin Munroe's upcoming Dylan Dog: Dead of Night has been popping up and then vanishing from the 'net recently. Thanks to Jack over at En lejemorder ser tilbage, we have a currently stable YouTube video. Naturally, since I posted it, another sudden disappearance is mutually assured.

As for the trailer, this production that seems to have taken forever looks to have popcorn potential, but I'm still rocky on whether it will come anywhere near the legion's expectations that the comic series has built over twenty-five years of existence. At best, Dead of Night looks helmed by a Guillermo del Toro several years after an horrific car crash gave the Hellboy director permanent brain damage. At worst, Underworld's Len Wiseman on a Twilight-high. Either way, "from the director TMNT" doesn't exactly warm the crimson cockles of the horror fanboy heart.

I've personally read only Dark Horse's English mini-series and a few fan translations, but it's all about the little touches in Tiziano Sclavi's expansive paper and ink creation. A filmmaker like del Toro could definitely impart that, even with a minuscule budget, but who knows with Munroe. There's also a distinct lack of European atmosphere in the three minutes below that permeates every frame of the comic. I'm sure the more diehard fanbase could, and probably already have, tear this trailer asunder (where's Groucho?).

No idea who Brandon Routh is, but he has huge shoes to fill in light of Rupert Everett's intellectual turn as a hybrid of the character in Michele Soavi's Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man, 1994). Sclavi actually modeled Dylan Dog's appearance after the British actor, so it only seems right the role always belong to Everett (who knows if he'd even reprise anyway). Although I'm biased, Soavi's last horror feature is of incredible importance to the genre acting as a headstone to an era and style that should never be forgotten. The 1994 film, despite being very stripped down and self-contained, possesses that certain rich texture both in its appearance and thematic depth the Dylan Dog source demands. That's coloring my whole reaction to this mediocre action-oriented trailer, I guess time will tell...              

Monday, September 6

Back Covers of Code Red's Upcoming MADMAN & NIGHT CHILD

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Just ran across these two and thought I'd share. Code Red is set to debut a 30th Anniversary Edition of Joe Giannone's Madman (1982) on September 28th and Massimo Dallamano's Night Child (Il medaglione insanguinato) (1975) on September 7th, or tomorrow! Click here to scope out the old Cocktail Video VHS of Night Child. I never particularly cared for Madman, but considering the Anchor Bay disc has been OOP and is demanding high collector prices, Code Red is doing a great service to fans with this re-issue.


Should Read "One of the Luckiest Zombie Films in Decades" - BoGD

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Some living twenty-tweens face off against "zombified" twenty-tweens that defy the laws of decomposition by becoming Olympic track runners upon death...whoopie and such...I wonder how much I'll get paid if I gave this a good review...well, I guess that shipped has sailed...

I think I've touched on this before here, but there comes a time when every horror fan learns to give the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the genre's indie output. There's only so much of the domestic mainstream one can consume before they find themselves brave enough to dip their toes into the bloody undertow of productions that cost less than a Hollywood catering table. In the process, some trade-offs are usually incurred, and accepting them help the viewer develop a better critical view. While many casual moviegoers tend to balk at an entire feature if even one aspect rubs them the wrong way, the versed perspective one gains from daring to trend upon independent material, even gory trash, is a component of growth in becoming a passionate film fan.

That said, I've seen enough no-budget zombie outings from the last few years to appreciate Automaton Transfusion for what it is. Shot in just nine days for the starting price of a Nissan Maxima, Steven Miller should be commended for pulling together a coherent seventy-five feature regardless of genre. That doesn't mean it was necessarily a good idea to rush the task. Miller's film is indistinguishable from the glut of indies that flooded the landscape after DV along with pro editing software became cheap and feasible on your average PC. Sure, there is some splattery gore, but nothing inventive or exceeding what we've all seen in more enjoyable cheapies. This is where dumb luck arises and Automaton Transfusion appears to have a Midas touch far greater than any other film of its ilk that I can think of.

The film received this glowing review from Bloody Disgusting. Now, I'm unsure what Mr. Miska was smoking at the time, but could I have some? He deems it, which the back cover uses as a pull quote, "the Holy Grail of “true” independent horror films." So I'm guessing this feature stands with the likes of Night of the Living Dead, Halloween, The Evil Dead, and The Blair Witch Project? OOOkkkayyy. Regardless, that review left the horror public justifiably itching to see Automaton Transfusion. The trailer is also annoyingly high on itself. Automaton Transfusion is apparently this generation's horror film that defines the culture. I'm not saying indie horror shouldn't strive for greatness, but falsely selling to that extent will create a well-deserved backlash. Snake Oil Transfusion is more like it...

The two Bloody Disgusting quotes the DVD uses, along with calling it a "masterpiece [that] shockingly redefines the zombie genre", simply makes horror fans seem absolutely stupid to outsiders. When did we get so dumbed down to hail such slapdash, mundane jaunts with our beloved flesheaters so ridiculously high? I'm unsure if the late, great Chas Balun ever saw this flick, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say he would keep it sweet and say "fuck it." If I was to rattle off superior living dead indies; Colin, Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone, Dance of the Dead, The Dead Hate the Living, Meat Market, and even the last two Return of the Living Dead installments are more deserving of an evening in.          

On top of this jerk off session, out of all the fresh genre product to arrive yearly, Dimension's new "Extreme" sublabel picked up Miller's debut for video distribution. Out of all the injustices horror has faced in recent years, this is perhaps the most egregious. Forget Trick 'r Treat being shelved and unceremoniously cast off onto disc, Paranormal Activity not seeing the light of day until Mr. Spielberg came along, or the aforementioned Colin still languishing in North American distro limbo. The simple fact this much-ballyhooed wafer of undead nothingness received the privilege of sitting on Best Buy, Wal Mart, and Blockbuster shelves nationwide seems almost criminal.

But these aren't the only gripes. Either by boneheaded design or one hell of a mistake, Automaton Transfusion's DVD transfer is plagued with image ghosting. The entire feature has an off-putting choppy appearance to any on-screen or camera movement. It's like an incredibly bad PAL-to-NTSC standards conversion. Unwatchable. The faked 2.35:1 scope transfer also isn't anamorphically enhanced for widescreen displays, despite the back cover stating so, making the feature look all the more cheap. So that makes the feature and disc not worth the two bucks I paid at a yard sale. I had no idea why the guy was selling it, but now I know full well...     


Saturday, September 4

Dead Alive (Braindead) (1992) - 1997 South Korean Film 4 Home Entertainment VHS

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This tape was featured in one of my old YouTube videos and I thought it deserved its own scan. Like I said in the vid, the red banner at the bottom seems to indicate the most severe of the country's ratings. I've seen green and yellow-bannered tapes of much tamer works on eBay. Unfortunately, the film clocks in at 87 minutes and is edited of much of the violence (South Korea's rating board has eased in recent years like the BBFC). This edit appears to be derived from the unrated North American version. I still think this tape is pretty badass for its rarity...at least outside of its native country.

Friday, September 3

Hang on to those Blair Witch DVDs...

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Blu-ray.com just posted this review of Lionsgate's The Blair Witch Project, another $9.99 Best Buy exclusive, and it's immediately clear the studio screwed up the transfer. Like the VHS edition, the picture is zoomed-in for a full screen presentation. Most people assume the original aspect ratio was 1.33:1, but the film was windowboxed with curved edges to mimic a full 16mm frame. The old Artisan DVD preserves this quality; yet for some reason Lionsgate decided to drop this for the Blu-ray. Judging by these 1080p captures, the studio also noise reduced the entire feature (especially evident in the B/W 16mm), making it actually look worse than the DVD instead of the "best" it could possibly be. On a similar note, it's funny how the review site gave the natively 480p standard definition and then further degraded 28 Days Later on Blu-ray a 4.5/5 for picture quality, but gave the mostly Hi-8 shot Blair Witch a 2.5 and totally missed the smeary DNR or aspect ratio alternation.

DVD / Blu-ray

Thursday, September 2

High Tension (Haute tension) (2003) - 2010 Lionsgate Unrated Blu-ray

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I have a neat little relationship with Alexandre Aja's Haute tension. On a complete whim and without knowing anything about the film prior, I ordered it on DVD from South Korea re-titled "X-tension". This edition ended up being edited of several minutes (had no idea of this at the time), but was the first home video release even ahead of the French disc. I then wrote this review for HorrorTalk.com; which might have very well been the first published in English. Afterward, word of mouth spread until the film became the "it" horror import for quite sometime. It's always something special and rare discovering a film before a flood of others.

Being #9 on my top ten of the last decade, I still love Aja's debut in spite of naysayers who bemoan the twist and its little inconsistencies. I'd honestly consider Haute tension to be a watershed genre moment on the order of Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. A fantastic melding between old slasher aesthetics and the unbridled possibilities of the "new" norms of the modern horror film. Incredibly directed, intelligent, violent, and bold. I also have yet to see a horror film since, and quite some time prior, that utilizes its integral aural component to strengthen its imagery so damn well. Simply one hell of a calling card that Aja and Levasseur have pleasingly followed through on. Well...aside from the derailed, Jack Baue...Kiefer Sutherland-fueled Mirrors.

Since this Blu-ray is a Best Buy exclusive until October 5th, I figured I'd scan the cover (click for large rez as always) and share some thoughts for those curious after watching it last night. First off, this disc has all of the extras found on Lionsgate's DVD, but is missing the short introduction from Aja and Levasseur. The 1080p, MPEG-4 AVC-encoded 2.35:1 transfer is solid, but very bittersweet. Haute tension was obviously subjected to extensive tinkering in digital post-production to achieve the film's current stylized appearance. Crushed blacks, extremely boosted color, and blown out contrast levels rule the day.

That's not to say this Blu-ray's picture quality is worse than the standard def discs; however, don't expect the kind of detail/color difference usually seen when shifting from standard to high definition. It does look better in terms of stability, especially on large projection displays, but it's not too much better than the DVD edition (esp. the French PAL) on a good upscaling player at 42" to 60". Fortunately, LG provides a full blown, aggressive-as-hell lossless French DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track that's as good as it gets. The included English Master Audio 5.1 dub sounds weak and distant in comparison. The annoying mix of dubtitles/real subtitles, like the prior DVD, are white and in Blu's easier-to-read high resolution. Considering this Blu-ray is only $7.99 at Best Buy right now, the barn-burning sound quality is worth that alone.
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Wednesday, September 1

Finally, THE EVIL DEAD comes home...

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This entry was inevitable if you've been paying attention to my prattling on Facebook and this little article a few days back over at Blood Sprayer. After bebopping into a local Wal Mart for something else yesterday from picking up a few of Best Buy Blu-ray exclusives (High Tension & Blair Witch), I spotted Anchor Bay's Blu of The Evil Dead for a straight $17 and needless to say it stuck to my hand. I've been attentively following this mini-saga over this new release since the studio's initial announcement and will admit to being a hardline skeptic. Anchor Bay can certainly be credited for keeping Raimi's gore classic perpetually in-print from the mid-'90s in their Video Treasure days with a brief Special Edition DVD layover from the sadly defunct Elite Entertainment. Many rightfully took issue with a first ever widescreen version in their Book of the Dead edition. My heart sank with the announcement that this Blu-ray would include this new matted presentation--despite also featuring the original full frame version.

Frankly, the Necronomicon-cased Book of the Dead edition was definitely cool looking, but otherwise held a rather poor presentation of the film. The transfer was too dark, slathered with noise reduction, and exhibited a strange pinkish hue especially evident in fleshtones. The 1.85:1 matting was also "hard", meaning that it was placed over the existing full frame image with no adjustments. This crudely cropped away just enough at the top and bottom of the frame to make most of the composition simply look cramped. So my expectations for this 1080p high definition release were certainly tempered by Anchor Bay's near-malice in their zeal to constantly "improve" the picture quality with each successive DVD. I won't even go into their whole Evil Dead II debacle.

But alas, upon finally watching this Blu-ray firsthand last night in 1080p, Anchor Bay (and Sam Raimi) need to be both deeply praised and thanked. The emerging reviews are true; this disc looks incredible. A fine layer of grain, normalized color temperature, and vibrancy of color create an experience that truly blows away all previous releases. The diehards can stop hyping up the blue-tinted Herald Videogram LaserDisc from Japan as the definitive presentation. This Blu-ray's 1.33:1 presentation is the one fans have been waiting for in The Evil Dead's nearly thirty years of existence. The image quality is so strong and natural, on both the full frame and widescreen versions, that this disc is also one of the best looking Blu-rays released thus far given the original 16mm material. It's just dazzling to think this much detail and color could be captured on a cheap, small square of celluloid back in the late '70s/early '80s. The release of this Blu-ray is honestly just as, if not more, important than the film's first DVD release over a decade ago. Lemme put it this way, if somehow the unthinkable occurred and the negative was lost or destroyed, a single copy of Blu-ray would be the saving grace.    

Although it's not all roses and the most distracting thing about this transfer is the unevenness between shots. Some shots appear tack sharp; while others look noticeably soft. Saying that, this aspect is inherent to the film's elements, not more of Anchor Bay's usual digital tinkering. We now to get see The Evil Dead, finally, warts and all. Concerning the widescreen version, Raimi not only supervised both transfers, but also adjusted the matting per sequence to avoid the cutting away of important picture information (like Bruce's chin, the Band-Aid box, and Scott's axe after chopping up Shelly). The writer/director also went a little Indiana Jones on DVD and applied some CG to block out Robert Tapert standing off to the right in the brush as the Olds rolls across the rickety bridge in the beginning.

Regardless of where one lands on these new or newly revealed aspects, the strength of the transfer cannot be denied. Here's to hoping Anchor Bay continues this trend and goes back to their initial, weak looking wave of horror classics on Blu-ray (including Evil Dead 2) with a fresh perspective. If The Evil Dead can look this amazing on home video, the possibilities seem endless for nearly any classic horror film yet to be unleashed in HD. Again, thanks must go to Anchor Bay for not bowing to the grain haters and Sam Raimi for still obviously harboring a deep love for the little film that permanently ingrained his name in horror fan's minds worldwide. Hop over with your mouse or drive out to the nearest place selling this one and buy it. You won't only be getting the finest The Evil Dead ever, but also sending a message to Anchor Bay to keep going down the road of reference video quality.                                                                     
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...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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