Thursday, December 30

Nekromantik 2 (1991) - (1996?) Jelinski & Buttgereit GBR German VHS (JB Cassette Label)

.
Snagged this one last week on eBay for a song. Buttgereit went through hell, and still seems to be, over distribution with tyrannical government censors over not only 1987's Nekromantik, but also this sequel. There were police raids of the director's apartment, small theaters, and video shops confiscating prints and materials associated with the film. At one point, authorities ordered Nekromantik 2's negative and everything related destroyed under bullshit criminal charges of glorifying violence and child endangerment. The film remains banned in its homeland and in 1992 shops were warned to pull copies from shelves. There's copies of this VHS with a "degraded" red skull on the tape's label instead of the "JB" logo (that Warner Bros freaked out with legal action over). The cassette's spine sticker is a crudely b/w photocopy of the cover's front credits and "72/1468" is hand-written in silver pen next the unbroken record tab. The case is a large "puffy" black clamshell made in Germany.

Wednesday, December 29

Monday, December 27

Some quick thoughts on Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) on Blu-ray (2D Version)

.
Having her superhuman T-Virus abilities stripped away during an attempt to destroy The Hive, Alice (Milla Jovovich) ends up in an undead Los Angeles after rescuing Claire Redfield (Ali Larter). The pair crash land by plane atop an enormous maximum security prison and find a band of survivors holding Claire's brother (Wentworth Miller) imprisoned. Through the din of the dead just offshore rests a supertanker that's been sending out calls promising safe haven, but the signals have ceased for several weeks. Alice and the group now seek a way to the ship with hordes of mutated dead breaking through the walls and a hulking Executioner Majini pounding at the gates.

Paul W.S. Anderson returns to the director's chair since Resident Evil and once again pulls double screenwriting/producing duties like the prior three. Looking back at Anderson's last direct/write/produce feature, Death Race, is easy to see why Afterlife is so scattershot. The wafer-thin Jason Statham vehicle had structure from the story's reliance on a series of loud, deadly races of escalating intensity. This equally dumbheaded fourth RE sequel lacks anything resembling that, giving off the impression that Anderson is mostly experimenting with Avatar's cutting edge 3D camera system until the fifth outing. Each installment seems to strike an odd tiptoe between continuation and self-containment possibly out of fear of floundering at the box office. It would be nice for the franchise to get some confidence for once and at least try something truly bold. We're at the fourth film already and at the end of the day this bullshit extravaganza became the highest grossing of the bunch. There will undoubtedly be a next time for better-or-worse and it's time to stand and deliver...maybe without Anderson entirely.

The action sequences that bookend Afterlife are so horrible that you'll want to punch Anderson for being such a damn hack. Both setpieces have the kind of soulless, cynical martial arts that died with Kurt Wimmer's directorial career and blatantly bite from both the Terminator and Matrix franchises. I can't remember much from Extinction, but Shawn Roberts portrays the evil Wesker as a younger Val Kilmer copy of Hugo Weaving's Agent Smith with T-800 tendencies. Anderson doesn't help by mimicking bullet time in the third dimension, giving Wesker physics-defying speed (being T-Virus incarnate), and throwing in futuristic transport aircraft that look like Apache-modded Hunter-Killers sent by Skynet. Unfortunately, none of this feels like homage and digs the screen adaption of Resident Evil into a deeper creative hole. It's a shame considering how revisionist and refreshing Capcom's fifth video game entry is by comparison. I guess the allegations of racism that bubbled up over the game's choice of setting and enemy was too much for Anderson's stuff-go-boom ADD to deal with.

Otherwise, the lengthy middle portion is more of the same from the series. A group led by Alice trying to deal with and being unemotionally picked off by freakish baddies with loads of excessive gunfire and slo-mo kung fu--only this time in a temple-like prison. Tomandandy's score is spirited enough to help the been-there-done-that and there's a few gags punctuating the action that'll make you smirk. Milla J's new short brown hair look makes her appear a little older, which is actually nice, even with her sloppy weapon handling (Ali Larter knows how to hold a handgun). The completely unexplained Executioner Majini character that looks like a huge meat butcher version of Silent Hill's Pyramid Head is cool and Anderson manages to make him look much less cumbersome on-screen than Nemesis in Apocalypse. Most of the 3D touches aren't obvious enough to be distracting if only watching in 2D. Still, I can't particularly recommend this, Resident Evil: Afterlife is about seventy minutes worth of RE-typical mindless entertainment with the other twenty being grating to anyone who is tired of The Matrix, Equilibrium, Ultraviolet, and so on. Maybe that chunk would go down better in 3D...

Sony's 2D Blu-ray is of reference quality both in its 1080p picture and thunderous DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound (my subwoofer cleaned itself of any dust). The pace of Afterlife is constantly moving, which is advantageous for Blu-ray as we experience a gamut of shifting scenery and digitally-enhanced shots. The natural palette of Antarctica, a rotting L.A. teaming with zombies, the cavernous depths of the prison, and blinding sterile whites of the finale are all beautifully resolved by this MPEG-4 AVC transfer. If nothing else, this presentation proves Sony knows how to produce fantastic picture quality on "their" format that makes for great demo/torture test material for your HDTV. I haven't checked out the extras yet, but you can tell this is a key title for Sony's 3D hopes with the inclusion of two (skippable) commercials. There's also a mysterious inclusion of two trailers for new pieces of Billy Zane and Cuba Gooding Jr. DTV dreck.
.

Sunday, December 26

Shakma (1990) - Toshiba EMI (Toemi) Japan VHS

.
A bit long in the tooth (hehe), but decent medically-enraged-baboon-run-amok quickie with Christopher Atkins, Amanda Wyss, and Roddy McDowall being Roddy McDowall. The impact of the baboon, named "Shockma" on-screen, is lessened by the humor of seeing him constantly chewing, standing up like he's the man, and violently slamming into doors with his face (animal lovers beware). There's also the ridiculous excuse to lock up the research facility at night with a "real-life" fantasy role-playing game overseen by McDowall and an ASCII game interface. Naturally, the animal breaks loose as the participants roam the floors looking for keys and clues to save the "princess". The bloody attacks never go anywhere near the extreme savagery of a real primate/human attack. The film also has that pleasantly well-lit, bright fashion-drenched look of the period making the sitdown inoffensive despite its repetitive nature. Toemi's uncut Japanese VHS is open-matte full frame mirroring the "rarish" North American tape.              

Friday, December 24

Appreciating the Cinematography of À l'intérieur (Inside) (2007)

.

Advantage Japan: Resident Evil: Afterlife (バイオハザードIV) - Limited Blu-ray/DVD Collector's Box

.
The Japanese get all the awesome, don't they? Continuing their boutique home video domination, Sony Pictures has just released a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD Collector's Box of Resident Evil: Afterlife with exclusive Executioner Majini action figure this past Wednesday in Japan.

The Blu-ray's extras appear to mirror Sony's U.S. 2D/3D Blu-ray bow next Tuesday including Paul W.S. Anderson commentary, Undead Vision: Picture-in-Picture, deleted and extended scenes, outtakes, Back Under the Umbrella: Directing Afterlife, Band of Survivors: Casting Afterlife, Undead Dimension: Resident Evil in 3D, Fighting Back: The Action of Afterlife, Vision of the Apocalypse: The Design of Afterlife, New Blood: The Undead of Afterlife, Pwning the Undead: Gamers of the Afterlife, PS3 wallpaper theme, and movieIQ+sync. Tech specs include a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC-encoded transfer and lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.

The Japanese limited set includes the 2D Blu-ray and DVD editions of the newest entry, Executioner Majini figure, photography booklet, and postcard set. Retail is ¥9,800 (or roughly $120). Limited to 5,000 pieces. Also exclusive to the country is a Blu-ray "Quadrilogy" set including the first three in series and the 3D Blu-ray of Afterlife for ¥10,800 ($130).
.

Thursday, December 23

Martyrs (マーターズ) (2008) - Official Japanese Trailer


Some quick thoughts on John Russo's Midnight (Written & Directed by John Russo) (1982)

.
Somewhere along the way, my virginal eyes witnessed the image to your right when I was a child gracing the cover of an old Fangoria in the "film reel" sidebar. This might have been the first depiction of such violence I'd had ever seen because it remained buried in the back of my mind. After years of horror consumption, comparatively this is like a bird resting on a branch during an early spring's misty morning to the misogynistic aplomb splashed upon my psyche since. Finally watching the mostly forgotten Midnight last night, now this image is nothing but embarrassing.

I've referred to my intense dislike towards John Russo in spats here in the past. Co-writer of the original Night of the Living Dead, Russo seems to have modeled his entire career on capitalizing on that milestone even if it means railroading George A. Romero. From his zombie novels that desperately claw at his writer partner's work (just ask Dan O'Bannon and his extensive rewrite of Russo's Return of the Living Dead) to the absolute figurative rape of the 1968 undead classic with his 30th Anniversary Edition. That 1998 recut/rescored abomination with fifteen minutes of idiotic "new" footage is unforgivable and showed nothing but malice on his part. Sure, the film is unfortunately public domain, but that doesn't mean it's okay for it to be utterly destroyed--especially by the hands of one of its creators. John Russo deserves zero credit for his contribution to Night of the Living Dead despite his credit probably being engraved on his tombstone upon his passing as a last desperate eternal reminder. Thanks for nothing besides one of the worst modern offenses to art outside of the National Socialist Society for German Culture.

Getting back to Midnight, yes, obviously my justified bias colors my perspective greatly. Even without that prism, this horribly dated clash between terrible versions of Last House on the Left and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre sucks in a nearly comatose way. It's the tale of a young girl who runs away from a incestuous stepfather (the great Lawrence Tierney looking like he's about to keel over) and hitches a ride with two guys to Florida. They eventually stop off in the sticks and run afoul of a Satanist backwoods family that naturally have horrible intent towards their prey. In the honored tradition of "bad" bad movies, we're treated to a bunch of longwinded driving sequences. In fact, the backwoods shit doesn't slap the fan until a good fifty minutes into the runtime when two members of the murderous clan show up impersonating police officers.

Dragging ass is one thing, but Midnight manages the amazing feat of dragging ass within these drag ass sequences. It's reminiscent of Russo's revisionist bastardization of NOLD, the writer/director just can't help but explain the obvious in an almost condescending way. An example is when the girl is first hitching a ride. Some sleazebag stops and stipulates sexual favors after so many miles while we hear the two guys that she ultimately rides with debating on whether to pick her up in the distance. After a while the slimy dude drives off and the other guys pull up and retread what they already said to her. She hops in and a sequence that should have taken thirty seconds instead takes four minutes. The entire ninety-three minute duration could be reduced to something like forty if all this inconsequential filler was scorn. The term "brevity" isn't in Russo's dictionary.


Here's another example in the first instance of foreshadowing. Instead of a short and sweet Crazy Ralph-like remark, a black preacher looking for a ride delivers this stiff monologue: "I'm scared to be out on the back roads with my daughter. It's too dangerous. There's some people found dead around here in the past couple years since I came here to preach. Some look like accidents, some were obviously murdered. A man and wife in my own congregation was found burnt to death in their cottage. The sheriff ruled accident, but that don't explain a half empty can of gasoline found back in the woods. Some of the lawmen around here don't feel to particularly kind to anybody who isn't white."

All that Midnight offers is Russo explaining everything as if those watching are cavemen that can't grasp even a hint of nuance. Even the special effects supposedly supplied by Tom Savini are terrible and lack the innovation seen in this period of his career. Savini still straight up denies his involvement in Romano Scavolini's Nightmare (1981); although this is the piece of trash he should be most ashamed of. Lionsgate's DVD looks decent enough for an old full frame video master. There's no visible cropping, but a constant stream of flecks and a few millisecond video dropouts. The IMDB states this presentation is two and a half minutes longer than prior releases with extensions to violent sequences. Not that it matters, but hey, did I mention this was written and directed by John Russo...?
.

Wednesday, December 22

Creepshow (1982) - 1983 Warner Home Video VHS & 1982 Plume Graphic Novel

.
One of the reasons I deeply respect the late Fangoria/Gorezone writer Chas. Balun were his frank, to-the-point opinions. He was a divisive character amongst his critics. They often pointed to his tendency of changing his viewpoints over time (yet don't we all?), showing extra favor toward the work of friends in the business (Jim Van Bebber can do no wrong), and being somewhat blinded by ample flares of gore. Reading through Balun's work, these charges are clearly true in some instances, but generally he would tell it like it is irrespective of the popular perspective. As Stephen R. Bissette aptly put it in Balun's great compilation, Gore Score 2001: The Splatter Years, "an unapologetic Gorehound [that] dared to stand and be counted."

In that very same guide rests his thoughts on George A. Romero's homage horror anthology, Creepshow (1982). True to form, Balun sees this amalgam as I, "a mildly uneven mix of horror rehash, predictable stories, and a strange schizophrenic bonding of comic books, animation, [and] gaudy pop lighting..." My opinion may not go quite that far, but I've secretly never cared for this widely accepted classic. Romero is obviously crafting his love letter to the glorious days of pre-code comics that reveled in salacious depictions of dastardly femme fatales and grisly fears from beyond the tomb. There's no fault to that since they're still awesome fertile ground for the horror movie to explore. Our beloved George's workman-like direction just can't take advantage of his preferred medium to lift the EC Comics-comic style beyond what's already experienced on the page. Not to mention the gaggle of unlikeable characters. That's another touch to what Creepshow's paying ode, but it's just tough to reap enjoyment from watching a bunch of bitter assholes in what should be an orgy of ol' horrortastic fun.

And I hate saying that because it sounds like I'm breaking some sacred commandment. Like the ghost of Vincent Price will suddenly fling the door open and in a blaze of blinding light sling a phantom axe into my face for such an indiscretion. I may have never warmed to it, but Creepshow deserves respect. It's the kind of all-star gathering--like Romero's crew and production with a John Carpenter cast--that we don't see anyone of a such big Hollywood scale. It's sad to think that it probably couldn't happen today anyway.

I mean, what the hell would that look like? A found footage, torture porn psycho drama starring Tobin Bell and some random young piece o' ass directed by Eli Roth? On the other hand, Creepshow has a cavalcade of welcomingly familiar faces in front of the camera and instantly recognizable credits that can be likened to a delayed gift to horror fans that stands as a landmark of a lost era. Nowadays, godawful spoofs like Stan Helsing are marketed to us like we're supposed to be grateful anyone cares enough to even do that much. Still, while Creepshow isn't a bad film by any stretch, it's personally one that isn't visited too often and I always come away underwhelmed when I do. Might even have a softer spot for Gornick's often beat-on sequel...

Although that doesn't mean I don't like Warner's original clamshell video release from 1983. There's something tactile and substantial about holding these big plastic cases in your hands. The layout of the clamshell VHS cover below was the same template Warner used until 1985 when they switched to the usual cardboard slipcover. Despite this edition of Creepshow not being very rare at all, it's my favorite clamshell from the studio. The large paperback graphic novel, published by Plume/New American Library in July 1982, is much rarer. Written by King with art from Berni Wrightson (his first collaboration with the author), it's a full color comic telling of the movie drawn in EC-style. And yes, that's King looking like Madman Marz without the fucked nose on the back.

Monday, December 20

Zombie: Dawn of the Dead (ゾンビ) (1978) - 126 Minute Director's Cut - Victor Japan VHS

.
Click on over to The Blood Sprayer to read about the near hell it was in finally receiving this awesome tape from the clutches of eBay...

Saturday, December 18

Awesome Alert: Waxwork (1988) in High Def on FEARnet On Demand!

.
Anthony Hickox's late '80s classic is presently available on Fear.net's VOD service in 1080i high definition until February 28th. I'm unsure whether it's the unrated version, the difference is only five seconds during China's vampire brawl, so your enjoyment shouldn't be deterred. It looks very nice, at least given its period, framed at 1.78:1. Most global DVD editions of Waxwork are taken from full frame 480i video masters, so this presentation is particularly cool...

Some quick thoughts on Cannibal Holocaust: The Beginning (Mondo cannibale / Cannibal World) (2003)

.
An unscrupulous newswoman and her boss hatch a plan to beat the Iraq war's ratings domination by unearthing the "truth" behind Amazonian cannibals. After assembling a few old comrades, the group enters the green inferno in search of an enigmatic tribe, dubbed "The Invisible", in order to document their man-eating brutality. Upon discovering the savage sect, the documentary makers stage a fake attack by rivals of the indigenous people and burn down their village. Now, the warrior survivors of the massacre are on the hunt for the murderous outsiders, while the evil television network (on location, in Hong Kong!) continues to devise ways of selling the foul product to a wanting public.

Oh Bruno, what possessed you to undertake your millennial streak of wholesale ripitude starting with Land of Death and Cannibal World? If it wasn't obvious after the first sentence, this is Bruno Mattei's rehash of Ruggero Deodato's infamous Cannibal Holocaust. Only the hack maestro's approach is that of a corporate promotional video or a porno without the porno. You're always half expecting cheap graphics advertising positive stock quotes to pop up on the screen or someone's genitalia to suddenly come flopping out. And that's before the jungle sequences. Things don't change much except for the scenery when lush greens dominate the screen. Maybe the worst dubbing ever ("stomachs flopping like palsy butterflies"...?!?), overzealously tight framing, sweaty faces with no make-up, and crowds of painted Indochinese with sticks being paid (hopefully) to chow on raw meat.

That's all that Cannibal World aims to be and it's puzzling anyone thought this type of exploitation film would be marketable today--especially from the director of Hell of the Living Dead (Virus). Mattei manages to completely screw up any distinctive quality found in Deodato's original. In Holocaust, the cannibals were still toothy fans of their fellow man, but were imbued with a certain measure of tact that made their actions seem like authentic, albeit brutal ritual. Bruno says screw all that here in favor of the epitome of crawl-out-from-under-a-rock savagery. So when the reporters burn, kill, and rape; it's hard to feel sympathetic towards the plight of the mud people since both sides are guilty to varying extents.

The reactions of the "civilized" camera-carrying thugs also unconvincingly lurch about. The lead newswoman is sold as being absolutely ruthless over garnering ratings at all costs, but freaks out after the men in her company rape and mutilate a tribe girl under the camera's lens. Her partner, Claudio Morales of Land of Death, is at first ardently pro-rain forest and tribe preservation before suddenly joining in on the treachery with a total 90° turn for the character. At least Cindy Jelic Matic (what the hell kinda name?!?), also of Land of Death, lets her perfectly fake boobs out for some air.

Of course, it's tough trying to decipher logic from a Mattei trash mountain, so I'm not going to abuse my brain further. Compared to the director's other post-'00 outings I've seen including Land of Death, Island of the Living Dead, and Zombies: The Beginning; Cannibal World rests at the bottom of the heap. Not by being the "worst", they all stink, but by being the most boring. There's some laughs, the level of inept reaches a transcendent realm with all of these, but it's more a chore to sit through than idiotic spectacle compared to the others. 

The easiest (and cheapest) DVD to locate is a factory pressed bootleg from Amazon's Marketplace and HKFlix. The disc is nearly an exact copy of the Japanese Fullmedia/Media Suits "Cannibal Holocaust 2" release complete with removable Japanese subtitles over an English track. The 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is anamorphic but interlaced. The Japanese menus include scene selections, a short photo gallery, and Japanese trailers for this one and Land of Death (Cannibal Holocaust 3). Interestingly, while the entire feature is dubbed, the trailers have snippets that aren't, so you hear the real "actors" speaking.
.

Friday, December 17

R.I.P. Jean Rollin (1938-2010)

.
Now that it's sadly official after some back and forth...

Thursday, December 16

Some quick thoughts on Evil Spirits (1990)

.
Karen Black goes all Norma Bates hearing the disembodied voice of her husband who comfortably rests in her bedroom as a corpse. She runs a boardinghouse, collecting checks, and killing occupants. Michael Berryman is one of the residents; a struggling writer that loves to ogle through walls at topless dancing from beautiful, minor scream queen Debra Lamb. Screen veterans Virginia Mayo, Arte Johnson, Bert Remsen, and Robert Quarry also make regrettable appearances.

Gary Graver's Evil Spirits is honestly one of the worst horror movies I've ever seen. This pain attempts to sell itself as a horror comedy, but both aspects are uncaringly mishandled by an inept work-for-hire filmmaker that mostly undertook smut quickies. The experience of watching can be likened to being at the funeral of someone you really didn't know surrounded by equally unknown mourners. It's still sad despite having no substantive attachment, which only adds an off-putting awkwardness to enduring the affair. Or perhaps a horrible nightmare in which you awaken in the middle of an enormous tank of shit with no sense of direction, light, or air. That's probably the better tantamount scenario.

No, having Berryman constantly snack on everything from cupcakes to pickles in all of his scenes isn't funny. It's only more reminder the man who was Pluto might be the most underappreciated working horror icon. One helluva nice gentleman in person who can surprisingly act when allowed regulated to freakshow status by his visage. Black goes through the motions and hopefully Rob Zombie mailed her this flick after she demanded more money to reprise in The Devil's Rejects. Debra Lamb has a nice striptease scene that's worth fast-forwarding to and then chucking the cassette in the trash after those few minutes. The rest of the cast comprised of seasoned actors, given their history in the business, just look crushed having to resort to such dreck in their twilight years. Unfunny paycheck work by actors who deserve better with its scant unsatisfying kills arriving way late. I'm unsure when Prism Entertainment finally closed shop, but I'd bet it wasn't too long after this dog.
.

Wednesday, December 15

Retribution (1987) - 1988 OPAL MEDIA AB Swedish VHS

.
Snagged this Swedish tape, that's most likely dubbed in that language, on the cheap for the goofy cover art. The Dutch VHS is reportedly the only uncut presentation, but given Sweden's proximity, this one might be uncut as well. Still no PAL VHS capability in the basement though...

Monday, December 13

Severed Ties (1992) - 1992 Columbia Tri-Star Home Video VHS

.
I was originally going to do a more fleshed out write-up for this inaugural Fangoria Films production still only available on tape--that was before actually watching. Severed Ties is one of those films that would be quite serviceable if other, superior examples of its concept didn't already exist. In this case; the work of Henenlotter, Gordon, Barker, and Cronenberg. There's countless flicks that are the horror equivalent of "near beer", but this one gives of the vaguely insulting vibe all that's required to be great is to simply lift ideas from the aforementioned and haphazardly slop them together because, you know, horror fans just love this shit. Even some (weak) KNB-powered puppetry and MPAA-safe "splatter" can't right this sinking ship. A wasted opportunity that's depressingly silly from the moment your VCR first draws the tape against its spinning drum. Classic Horror.com's review nails my sentiments.

Sunday, December 12

Some quick thoughts on Deadline (1981)

.
An infamous horror scribe, Steven Lessey (Stephen Young), faces a tight deadline for an impending production based on an as-of-yet-unwritten screenplay. That's not the only thing plaguing the beleaguered Lessey. His wife, Elizabeth (Sharon Masters), is descending into haze of booze and coke, while Steven's career pre-occupation is driving his three children further into resentment. During a guest university lecture, the writer's resolve is badly shaken when hecklers condemn his prior work as vile exploitative garbage (after watching this gory clip). Afterward, despite coming up with ever wilder scenarios, Lessey commands himself to stop authoring "schlock" and chooses to quest for the ultimate in horror. Eventually, the unthinkable tragedy of a child's accidental death befalls the family and Lessey discovers what his pen was desperately seeking all along...

Trolling other opinions of Mario Azzopardi's Deadline, I get the feeling many somehow equate its obscurity as a signal of a bad feature. Some even seem annoyed that such a horror film have the gall to even attempt its weighty concept. They can walk off a short bridge with that bullshit. Truth to be told, while this surprisingly bloody yarn of writer's block madness isn't perfect; it's vastly more thought-provoking than the majority of early '80s boredom deservingly landlocked on analog video. The film presents an interesting parable between the horrors of fiction and reality as Lessey's life spirals amidst struggling to put pen to paper.

The screenwriter's ideas are outlandish and played out in snippets for the viewer to see. A showering woman drowns as the water turns into a torrent of blood while another dies giving birth as the fetus decides to "commit suicide" during the process. Two children burn their tied-down grandmother to death, a group of nuns give themselves communion with the ripped out heart of a crucified priest, and a punk rock band is enlisted by a Nazi to hit a tone that makes bodies explode...or something. These scenes could be seen as useless in their gory glee, but juxtapose nicely with the increasing reckless intensity of Lessey's reality.

The sticking point for most negative reaction toward Deadline is how it's nearly impossible to tell what intellectual point Azzopardi is shooting for with this contrast. Given how slashers were booming at the time, even in its native country of Canada, the serious dramatic tone could be seen as a revolt aganist "cheap" ideas in the genre. It's the same thing horror fans complain about to this day and something David Cronenberg was battling without acknowledgment through his art in the Great White North. Azzopardi might be addressing that, just with much less finesse, but it's not too much of a stretch to see the writer/director condemning the horror genre itself. No matter how horrific the images Lessey's mind conjures, they simply can't compete with his family disintegrating through his fingers.

The ammunition for this perspective comes in the unusually solid performances. Sharon Masters as the writer's wife, in the last role in her short career before disappearing, is reminiscent of Sharon Stone in Casino. A woman with a path to opulence through her husband failing to overcome old, destructive habits. The profane venom she hurls is palpable, but Young's Steven isn't entirely innocent. The writer has a snap temper with physically abusive tendencies and a skewered outlook between family man and playing fledgling mogul with his career's business side.

So it's a tough call that's most likely dictated by your personal perspective. On one end, Deadline could be seen as a direct challenge to the cementing norm of easy boobs n' blood that settled in during its decade. Perhaps Azzopardi was one of those near-maniacal old guard diehards who became super pissed over the fall of Universal and Hammer to the likes of Leatherface. On the other end, the feature's heavy-handedness could be a pointed indictment of how fleeting cinematic horror is compared to the rigors of maintaining ho-hum sanity. It's not quite a lost masterpiece, but there's something refreshing and scrappy about Deadline. It's over-the-top, brazen, and creepy in turns even with its stuffy 1981 presentation.

The Tohokushinsha/VAP Video Japanese VHS is a full screen transfer cropped from 2.35:1 like the North American Paragon Video VHS. The cropping, while still evident, actually isn't terribly distracting (everything seems center-composed). The Japanese has a little more image information along the sides and looks better than the Paragon. Both presentations are uncut, but the Japanese naturally has a little optical censoring to the nudity in the shower scene. I'd recommend the Japanese tape, but the thirty-year-old Paragon is acceptable and not too hard-to-find online at a decent price. The U.S. indie video pioneer released the film twice in a rare big box and cardboard slipcover both with unique art. Maybe if Code Red or Scorpion Releasing hang on long enough, they can give Deadline a deserving digital resurrection.
.

Saturday, December 11

In lieu of actual content today...

.

Friday, December 10

Some quick thoughts on Ironmaster (La guerra del ferro - Ironmaster) (1983)

.
The elders of a primitive tribe that speak near perfect English wring their hands over who will be the heir to their leadership, either the strong Ala (Sam Pasco) or brash Vood (George Eastman). During a battle with rock slinging mud savages, Vood sees his opportunity to take the reigns by braining the leader with a stone axe. The brutal act is witnessed by Ala who confronts the murderer. In the ensuing fisticuffs, Vood inadvertently kills the oldest member of the tribe and is ran off for his crimes. 

Upon his exile, a great volcano erupts and Vood comes across a crude iron blade from the ashes created from the event. The vengeful mortal realizes he wields the greatest weapon on Earth, conquers his previous tribe, and starts overthrowing all in his wake with the new implement capable of shattering both wood and rock. Ala becomes the new exile and must find a way of stopping Vood, despite befriending a defenseless pacifist clan.

Umberto Lenzi's Ironmaster is awful, even for a cheap sword-and-sandal, but worth seeing for the endearing off-kilter stupidity baked into its era's parasitic Italian cinema. Sam Pasco's Ala, in his only screen credit (outside of gay porn), looks like a bodybuilder version of The Room's Tommy Wiseau with blond locks. Joe D'Amato regular George Eastman as Vood might be featured more here than the hero and wears a horribly unconvincing lion head killed upon first retrieving the blade. Genre scarlets Elvire Audray (Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story) and Pamela Prati star as Ala and Vood's women respectively. Audray exhibits the fact that even neanderthal women wore mascara and lipstick. Prati is sluttier, and even though there's no intentional nudity, she wears such a skimpy halter top that her boobs pop out every time she tries to run (well, prance). There's even an instance of continuity of the actress beginning to run with them bouncing out and later still "revealed" upon reaching her destination. A defeated William Berger appears as the pacifist tribe leader looking a bit like Bruce Glover.

Then there's a bunch of little instances you'd only see in a Lenzi film. The morning after the volcano, Vood digs into what should be molten Earth at ground zero and snatches up the iron hunk that should also be flesh-meltingly searing with all the heat reaction of a freshly toastered Pop Tart. The basic skill of ironwork and sword forging seems "ironed" out literally overnight as Vood's brotherhood cranks them out with the unexplained convenience of modern blacksmith tongs.

The humans battle against groups of hairy man-apes that unfortunately don't wear anything--even underwear. Some grotty cave-dwelling plague victims with open sores also attack Ala and that's about as far as the blood quota pushes aside from a few badly executed slashes. Then there's the requisite stock footage of lava eruptions and high school science class volcano miniature. Guido and Maurizio de Angelis provide an unusually throwaway score with the main theme sounding like a cross between spaghetti western and Egyptian-tinged barbarian dirge. Strangely, the bulk of the feature was shot in Custer State Park in Custer, South Dakota. That explains the inexplicable presence of buffalo herds. Perhaps Lenzi thought the audience would mistake bison for mammoths? Finally, animals lovers be warned, Lenzi can't help himself, a boar and lion appear to have given their lives for this masterpiece.

So Ironmaster definitely doesn't live up to its disproportionately fantastic artwork, when do they ever, but it's good for a chuckle or two. The twenty-five-year-old American National Enterprises/Prism Entertainment VHS is colorful but cropped to full screen from its original 1.85:1 ratio. It's watchable with the compromised framing only evident in a few shots. A good ten minutes of A.N.E. video trailers, including Ironmaster, run before the feature.
.

Thursday, December 9

Tuesday, December 7

Demon Queen (1986) - 1987 Mogul Communications VHS

.
Since this tape sold on eBay earlier (and my meager bid toppled), I dug out my MOGUL of Donald Farmer's DEMON QUEEN, with cover art from Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City (1980), from the catacombs. While a healthy number of these early '80s shot-on-video gore bombs made the transition to disc, Farmer's debut remains extremely obscure on video. As you can see, some asshole rental joint, "Backstage Video" to be exact, chopped down the studio's puffy clamshell-sized cover to shoehorn it into a small plastic case. Bastards.

This tape is ridiculously rare and one of the rarest of MOGUL's fantastic releases. Harder-to-find than Fury (1978) or The Icebox Murders (1982). Consorting with fellow VHS fiends on Facebook, I've learned that SOV madman Mario Dominick of Critical Condition and Horror Society only knows of two or three others besides himself that own this tape and the mangled copy on eBay is the best condition he has seen this in thus far. I haven't watched my copy due to the cassette being a large reel T-60 (notice how the auction copy appears to be a regular T-120). My current VCR has "hunger" handling issues with such tapes. Here's a very knowledgeable review by "capkronos" (get a blog man!) on the IMDB:

"During the video boom era of the 80s, distributors were so desperate for new product to add to their catalogues they'd release just about anything they could get their hands on. Foreign films and made-for-TV movies were popular acquisitions, but thanks to access to affordable consumer grade camcorders, a whole new generation of "filmmakers" came into the picture with various no-budget releases. Johnn Wintergate's awful-but-hilarious BOARDINGHOUSE (1982) was the first notable camcorder effort to turn up on home video (on the short-lived Betamax format under the title HOUSEGEIST), though it apparently was also shown in theaters first! There was also SLEDGE HAMMER (1984), a slasher from David A. Prior, followed by Christopher Lewis' BLOOD CULT (1985), which proudly claimed to be the very first movie made specifically for the home video market. Just one year later, director Donald Farmer fired up his own trusty camcorder and gave us his first of many attempts at horror - DEMON QUEEN (1986), which was shot in both the Miami, Florida and Nashville, Tennessee areas and involves a seductive vampire-demon-succubus. I won't lie, this film is truly terrible in every sense of the word. Sloppy continuity errors, sound that frequently cuts out, opening and closing credits with misspelled words, actors grinning when they shouldn't and badly flubbed lines of dialogue are all allowed to pass into the finished product. It's also very badly padded out. If you cut out the opening and closing credits, the film runs just 46 minutes! There's also a pointless dream sequence of the the demon queen ripping out some guy's heart. That whole sequence lasts a gruelingly long 8 minutes.

Uncut MOGUL vs. butchery
The story centers around Jesse (Dennis Stewart), a lowly drug pusher in an unhappy relationship with bitchy, strung-out girlfriend Wendy (Patti Valliere). Jesse owes dwarf coke dealer Izzie (Ric Foster) six-thousand bucks and when Izzie has his henchman Bone (Cliff Dance) come to collect, a sexy and mysterious female in shades shows up to save the day. Jesse, who was temporarily knocked out, awakens to find Bone dead on the ground, his throat ripped out, and the woman who did it - Lucinda (Mary Fanaro) - in need of a place to stay. Jesse figures he owes Lucinda at least one favor since she saved his life and lets her come crash at his pad. Naturally, Lucinda turns out to be some kind of evil demon-succubus-vampire monster who likes to seduce men, rip out their hearts and then rub them on her bare breasts. Some of those killed by Lucinda return as flesh-eating zombies. To pad out the thin storyline, we get a succession of victims in random scenes getting stalked and killed. To pad out the thin storyline even more, there are several scenes that take place at a video store, where the horror-loving owner talks to a couple renting MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY, and deals with a bitchy customer who only wants to rent Barbra Streisand movies.

Fanaro, who has some screen presence, is one aspect of the film they did manage to get right. She's tall, thin, has an alluringly husky voice and a short, spiky hairstyle that reminded me of LA FEMME NIKITA star Anne Parillaud (who got to play a sexy vampire herself in 1992's INNOCENT BLOOD). Fanaro went on to some other roles in higher-profile movies and television shows, and also got to star in Tim Ritter's TRUTH OR DARE around the same time. The less said about the rest of the cast the better. 


There are topless scenes from the leading lady and another actress (who is killed in the bathtub), as well as a couple of OK ripped-throats-gushing-blood effects. The succubus in her demon form is only seen in a few brief flashes but looks like a torched Muppet. One hilariously botched effect occurs when the main actor is struggling with one of the zombies at the very end. Obviously he was supposed to reach up and tear off the zombie's skin to reveal a skull face underneath. Unfortunately, the layer of skin he grabs doesn't come all the way off on the first try, so he casually has to reach up a second time and pull the rest of the way off! To supplement the Casio Keyboard soundtrack, there are also several original cheesy pop-rock songs that I happened to love. They're sung by a female vocalist. One of them goes "Let me be your angel fire... Let me be your one desire..." and is listed as "AngleFire" in the end credits. Ha! You gotta love this kind of stuff, right?"

Monday, December 6

Street Warriors Part II (Perro callejero II) (1981) - 1987 All Seasons Entertainment VHS

.
ASE's titles are rare, but this is one of their more obscure selections. The studio also released the first Perro callejero with similar unrelated tailored promo shots. Unlike earlier big box releases, this is in a slipbox with a closed bottom and opening right side flap. Gotta love FOREIGN NUDITY!

Saturday, December 4

Aliennators (Shocking Dark / Terminator II) (1990) - Caution Video Japan VHS

.
Gave this another whirl last night with the real Japanese tape instead of a DVD-R of said release. My previous negative thoughts mostly stand, this particular sci-fi/action ingredient thieving certainly isn't Mattei's finest hour. If anything, you're left wondering how in the world the financiers were convinced this would sell given its obvious likeness to Cameron's Aliens. We have Ripley and Newt clones in all their usual follies. Badass marines headed by a butch Geretta Geretta, dubbed the "Megaforce", in motorcycle helmets and flared shoulder pads. Melty monsters that look like the Humanoids from the Deep with a bad case of acid flesh. The Paul Reiser character revealing himself a tinfoil Terminator with one-track taunts about his poorly exhibited indestructibility. To its credit, the final twist does show a spark of last resort originality. My beef isn't with its lack of a brain, this is Bruno Mattei after all, but all these parts don't homogeneously come together like others in the filmmaker's merrily unoriginal forte.

Much like Mattei's final Hail Marys into the Italian horror abyss, Island of the Living Dead and Zombies: The Beginning, Mattei proves the familiarity of his country's genre forays doesn't change regardless of time. So Shocking Dark, despite my apathy, feels like could have been easily made a decade earlier which would have been quite the feat if attempted intentionally. That's what both blissed and doomed Mattei and his pasta lovin' brethren into obscurity. The actual tape's picture quality is much more bearable than the disc's shockingly dark playback. The Killians also assisted and this time managed to pull a few chuckles out of dialogue so cheesy the actors probably had to keep breath mints handy for the entire production. For the fact alone Bruno had the balls to call this Terminator II, it's hard to resist the temptation of seeing this one at least once.

 

A Fistful of Dollars (Per un pugno di dollari) (1964) - 1982 20th Century Fox Video Betamax

.
Picked up this "slipbook" box Beta not two blocks away this morning at a yard sale and don't get the choice of (colorized) stills on the back. Why would Fox not choose to feature Eastwood on the back like common sense would dictate? You would think by the time of this tape's release the importance of this milestone to both its genre and Clint's career would have warranted that much. Hell, I can't even find production stills that match. Although, this is Fox we're talking about...

Thursday, December 2

The Rue Morgue Massacres (Hunchback of the Morgue) (1973) - All Seasons Entertainment Big Box VHS

.
Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies has just started their Paul Naschy Blogathon and you'd be well advised to scope it out...

Wednesday, December 1

Fragile: A Ghost Story (機械じかけの小児病棟) (Frágiles) (2005) - 2007 Shochiku Home Video Japan HD DVD

.
HD DVD never really was given much of a chance by the public and ultimately the major studios picked the winner of the high def disc war. Warner's Blu-ray exclusivity announcement was the Toshiba-backed format's death kneel. Despite defending the underdog to its collapse, I'm not particularity bitter since most of the doom-and-gloom of a Sony-controlled home video market hasn't materialized. Blu-ray's DRM scheme offers complete access for studios to do what they wish with the intrusive software, instead of HD DVD's unified structure that only authorized changes after the controlling committee agreed. Complete region free-ness also rocked.

Personally, I was more annoyed by all the effective misinformation spread by BD (and PS3) fanboys about HD DVD's capabilities. Hearing their bull back then, you would have thought the loser was only 720p with DVD quality audio. Currently the winning HD format is viewed a supplement to DVD rather than a dominating force, which is a good thing, Blu-ray media and player prices keep becoming increasingly competitive with the alternatives. My HD DVD players, the tank-like HD-A1 and HD-A35, are still in my racks and I haven't gotten rid of any of my discs. Plus it's nice to pick up brand-new $3 titles every once and again at discount shops. 

In the format's relatively short life, even Betamax lasted (much) longer, imports were all the rage for addicted enthusiasts. Jaume Balagueró's Frágiles was one of those and remains its only HD disc release. The 1080i/60hz transfer is encoded in MPEG-4 AVC. The format was fully capable of 1080p/24, but for some unknown reason Shochiku's few HD DVDs were natively interlaced. The dirty secret that no Best Buy or DirectTV salesman will divulge is that 1080p displays worth their salt deinterlace 1080i signals to 1080p anyway; so 1080i isn't much of a perceptible step down especially with a high bitrate encode like this release. The audio is offered in a lossy 640kbps Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track. Again, HD DVD supported all three lossless codecs, but the studio opted to only offer Dolby's go-between. The 30GB dual-layered disc has what looks like four extras but I don't speak Japanese. I haven't opened this disc and probably never well due to its extreme rarity nowadays. Balagueró's film finally made its North American video debut with Fangoria's Frightfest DVDs this past September (check out Freddy in Space's review).  
.
...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
Basement of Ghoulish Decadence, Basement of Ghoulish Archive, and all original material Copyright © 2009-present by Jayson Kennedy. All rights reserved.