Monday, February 28

Some info on that obscure Moonstalker (1989) DVD...

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Michael O'Rourke's Moonstalker is pretty bad, but I'm not going to hold that against it. It's the tale of a psycho poppa's boy in a straitjacket and burlap sac-like head covering who went nuts after the death of his momma. Apparently the kin have been traveling via rundown camper across the country killing the unsuspecting along their path. Pops run across a family stupid enough to divulge details of how decked out their camper is and later that night ol' sachead is freed from his chains to kill the family so the pair can pillage their goodies.

During the act, the family's young daughter flees with the axe-wielding maniac in pursuit, but in the excitement Pops drops dead from heart failure. Soon the loose killer, named Bernie, sheds his jacket and mask to become a murderous Glenn Danzig in a white ten gallon hat, aviator shades, and red flannel. The same night, he runs across more hapless victims in the form of some teens and their counselors running a micro wellness camp thing.

That's pretty much the deal besides some little twists involving the psycho's tango with a police officer years prior who re-appears after hearing reports of hacked up bodies. If anything, Moonstalker at least gets a handle on the formula of the formulaic slasher. We've seen this all before and learned fans will quickly pick up on the parallels to classics like Friday the 13th, Madman, The Burning, and Happy Birthday to Me. The pitfall here, like many horror indies, is how everything seems to take a long time. Boredom soon sets in and the healthy bodycount doesn't really help since there's almost no effects to speak of. Most of the killings happen off screen or in ominous scene cutaways. There's no nudity besides some bare backs and shoulders. A prime example of a slasher that would have been spiced up into something more notable if it gave more of what we usually watch these flicks for.

Regarding the DVD, released by "Global Multimedia Corporation" in 2004, all signs pointed to a cheapo DVD when I found it at a church flea market over the weekend. First, the "case" is actually a cardboard envelope like the ones at dollar store checkout counters. No extras, eleven chapter skips, and (oddly) Spanish subtitles. Yet surprisingly the original full frame picture quality is quite alright, probably taken from an old video master and not simply a quick VHS rip. The transfer is interlaced, but the results are very nice and almost 16mm film-like when piped through a good DVD player.

Sound is mostly clear with a Dolby Stereo track. There is one possible "edit" to a shower scene where the picture degrades for a brief shot, but maybe the topless actress requested a zoom and it's always been like that. The original VHS release is ridiculously hard-to-find. So much so I've personally only seen it on eBay twice. So if you're a slasher completist keep your eyes open. Amazon has this disc, but $9.98 seems a bit rich and there are undated reports of this being found at dollar stores. It's well worth tracking down if you're already a fan for the picture quality alone.

(unresized captures)

Sunday, February 27

Death Wish (1974) - 1981 Paramount Home Video LaserDisc

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Another early Laserdisc release. This one is interesting because of the Pioneer logo stamping (top left in the black) and "Made in Japan" sticker on the back cover. MCA were the first replicator to produce the actual LaserDisc discs in first few years of the format when introduced in the late '70s. They rather sucked at the manufacturing process and many of their "Discovision" pressings suffer bad laser rot now. Pioneer picked up the ball, fostering LD for decades afterward, and with these markings I assume this disc was pressed at Pioneer's facilities in Japan.

The single CLV Extended Play disc has some tiny line dropouts evident, but far less than the MCA discs I own (including Magnetic Video's Alien). This presentation is unmatted to full frame; which is nice since my display has a zoom option that frames the picture at around 1.85:1 without distorting proportions (seen below). Like Alien, there's no chapter skips and the time display on the player's face only registers minutes.

Saturday, February 26

Some quick thoughts on horror criticism with a few on Damned by Dawn (2009)

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From the back: Spoken of only in fearful whispers, a supernatural force holds a chilling grip over a remote, primitive farming community where Claire (Renee Wilner) arrives to visit her ailing grandmother. On her deathbed, the old woman warns Claire about the cost of interfering with a powerful spirit coming to claim her soul, and when the rest of the family fails to heed these ancient traditions, the dead are called up from their graves for a bloody night of retribution that leaves carnage and monstrous mayhem in its wake! A riveting rollercoaster of terror in the tradition of The Evil Dead and Drag Me To Hell!

My damn stubborn ass needs to learn to listen. Before the Interwebs, horror fans had a much harder time deciphering what was worth the effort and what's best left to languish on the video shop shelf. Much of it was trial-and-error toiling away nightly with the VCR. One might end up with a night wasted with insufferable dreck or strike it lucky with the right mood and feature. That's why it's always best to line up a double or triple feature if possible.

One of the greatest assets of having such a connected horror community online, besides nitpicking everything, is the ability weed out the shit from the Shinola. See an unknown title on-demand or buy some horror flick on tape you've never heard of before? Simply type in the title into the Google and you're usually inundated with reviews, comments, and photos of the given movie. It's an amazingly powerful tool for both budding gorehounds still learning the OCD and the aging initiated who refuse to get off our fat asses as much as we should. This Internet backchecking is almost essential nowadays with the ongoing glut of horror available from the dawn of relatively cheap, "prosumer" HD camera and editing equipment over the last few years. Far more so than the VHS era's shot-on-video genre offerings, there's just so damn much homebrew horror to keep up with.

Where am I going with this when pertaining to Damned at Dawn? Well, it reminds me of my experience with Tor Ramsey's (or Karen Wolf's, depending on who you believe) explosion undead suck, Children of the Living Dead back in 2001. Oh, I heard the deluge of negative criticism but no matter, I was going to judge for myself with an open mind. And that's healthy, advisable, and part of the adventure, but perceptions were crushed that particular night. Worst of all, I actually bought that fucker. I repeated that scenario with this generally maligned indie, despite this wailing banshee/flying zombie/fog/more fog thing being superior to that unspeakable 2001 mess. Sometimes it's best to listen. More times than not, the consensus can be trusted.

When the almost hour long making-of featurette on Image Entertainment's DVD is far more engrossing than Damned at Dawn itself, you know something went horribly wrong. Simply put, writer/director Brett Anstey's feature-length debut feels like what a non-horror fan would perceive as what a horror fan would love. A gauntlet of forced chairjumpers, screaming, running, blood, fog, trees, and gunfire. Unfortunately, these potentially fun elements don't come together and there's a distinct ruination of most creativity from the overuse of CG.

Yes, the plot is very much like Raimi's work; however, what makes the Evil Dead series so special is the amazing camerawork, practical effects, and Raimi's ability for seemingly off-the-cuff solutions that bloom with incredibly inventiveness in spite of budget. There's little of that here, instead we get an overabundance of fog overlays and bad looking, goofy flying zombies. This binary reliance is so distracting that everything is substantially dragged down. As if the filmmakers aimed for a gloomy and gothic atmosphere but instead landed firmly in an ugly, tacky spectrum. Damned at Dawn's narrative is also flaky, despite honestly decent acting, with character actions occurring and background information dropping at late, awkward times as Anstey claws to reach ninety minutes.

It's hard to recommend the mostly boring and silly Damned at Dawn. That's tough to say since the surprisingly great making-of genuinely leaves the impression everyone involved had their hearts in the right place--most of all Anstey. Maybe with more work this filmmaker will create something special, but for now, "sick of waiting for Evil Dead 4?" Re-watch the existing three. Sometimes it's best to listen.
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Thursday, February 24

Death Wish II (1982) - 1982 R-Rated Warner Home Video Clamshell

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Much like Red Scorpion, the history around Michael Winner's sequel to the 1974 classic is more interesting than the film itself. According to Bronson's Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films by Paul Talbot, screenwriter David Engelbach basically found Bronson's house using a Hollywood Map to the Stars and had the brass balls to actually walk up to front door unannounced to present the actor with his finished script in-person. Bronson understandably freaked out and cast off the prospects of a Paul Kersey return. That is until an offer of $1.5 million to reprise the role and Winner deciding to direct (after producer Menahem Golan of Cannon Films stepped aside) convinced the icon to return to the trademark role.

After Death Wish II was in the can, it faced the wraith of both the MPAA and BBFC ratings boards. The film's two brutal rape sequences were the primary aim of the censors and they were extensively edited along with Kersey's daughter's fence impalement suicide to avoid an X rating in North America. Every home video release including this initial Warner Home Video clamshell has been the MPAA version.    

The BBFC were even harsher with the board's director James Ferman publicly relishing over the edits to the anger of Winner (watch the priceless video below). Even with the cuts, the film was granted an X rating in Britain with nearly four minutes of trims. Even the European DVDs, barring the still edited U.K. disc, that feature all the violence and uncut rape scenes aren't fully uncut. An almost mythical Greek VHS featuring a workprint with all the nasty stuff, much of the television edit filler material, and three short dialogue segments unseen elsewhere is the most complete version released to date.

Another interesting tidbit is that it's been long rumored Jimmy Page's rare score contains much of the rejected pieces the Led Zeppelin guitarist originally composed for Kenneth Anger's short film, Lucifer Rising (1972).

Tuesday, February 22

Virgin Among the Living Dead (Christina, princesse de l'érotisme) (1973) - 1985 Careyvision Ltd. U.S. VHS

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Awhile back I shared information about this rare North American NTSC formatted tape of Jess Franco's A Virgin Among the Living Dead from the Britain-based Careyvision Limited to Robert Monell of I'M IN A JESS FRANCO STATE OF MIND (click to directly view his post with pictures). Well, I found another recently and just wanted to share this snap of them. Strangely, the cover's paper stock is unusually "flat" and not glossy like most clamshell covers. They almost look inkjet printed, but given how old the tapes are (glue failure on the labels) these aren't bootlegs. This makes the covers extremely delicate and I can't slip them out to perform a proper scan without risking serious damage. Careyvision also released NTSC-friendly "Horror Theatre" editions of The Invisible Dead (La vie amoureuse de l'homme invisible) (1971) and Crimson (Las ratas no duermen de noche) (1976) (thanks to Mike of Bootleg Screen Printing for this tip!)

(tape info I posted at the Cinemadrome forum)
On-Screen Title: "VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD"
Language: English w/ English front/end credits
Ratio: Full Screen
Runtime: 1:28:03 (88 minutes, 3 seconds) (from film start to fade to black)
Tape Type: T105 (105 minutes)
Playback VCR: U.S. Sony SLV-640HF (60Hz NTSC-only)

NO BBFC Certification at the beginning of the tape
The film ends with Christina "going mad" and the final shot is her lying on a bed with "THE END" imposed along the bottom of the picture.
The nudity is either cut, blacked out, or blotted out by a purple halo.
Rollin's zombie inserts are included.

Monday, February 21

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama (1987) - 1987 Urban Classics Video VHS

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To fill the picture void of this old review. Watched Slimeball again last night and those comments still hold true. It's an excellent example of the purposeful non-budget schlock that super-crap filmmaker mogul David DeCoteau thrives in. I'm unsure praise should be laid upon one-shot writer Sergei Hasenecz, but this comedy pulls off the feat of being quirky without seeming forced or desperate unlike countless other beer n' boobs B flicks. The simple crush between four-eyed dork and criminally-toned sexy Linnea Quigley rings true, Michelle Bauer is insanely hot as always, and George Buck Flower's segments as a bumbling janitor are hilarious. Prime slab of fun '80s kitsch. Urban Classic Video's VHS also includes trailers for Galactic Gigolo (1987) and Assault of the Killer Bimbos (1988).

Sunday, February 20

In a Glass Cage (Tras el cristal) (1987) - 1988 CineVista Video VHS

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I'm going to defer to Chris Gallant's excellent write-up concerning Agustín Villaronga's In a Glass Cage over at Kinoeye. I've read several commentaries of this extremely controversial film and find his interpretation the most thoughtful. Like Gallant and others have pointed out, Villaronga evokes a cyclical paradigm between violence and the passing of time--both in microcosm within the primary relationship and overarching narrative. That and an exploration of a host of other heady themes like Fascism, pedophilia, and the ruination of humanity. It's hard to take this film any other way but deadly serious; which might hurt potential revisits since the experience is thoroughly unpleasant. There's a timeless quality to In A Glass Cage and it feels right in line with more recent Spanish cinema for those familiar with names like De La Iglesia, Amenábar, Del Toro, and Balagueró. Just crushingly bleaker than anything those filmmakers have ever done. Urban Classics Video's VHS also includes trailers for Galactic Gigolo (1987) and Assault of the Killer Bimbos (1988).

Saturday, February 19

A Word of Thanks!

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BoGD has crossed the 100k visit mark since Google Stats began last July. Many thanks!
(disregard how fucking nuts I look)

Friday, February 18

This desperately needs a proper DVD release...

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High Crime (La polizia incrimina la legge assolve) (1974)

Thursday, February 17

Session 9 (2001) - 2001 USA Entertainment Screener VHS

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Nothing particularly special about this tape besides Anderson's debut making my Top 10 of the Last Decade, so it's well worth checking out. Preferably the DVD since this tape is painfully cropped from 2.35:1 scope to full screen. Many fawn over the director's The Machinist starring an emaciated Christian Bale, but it's predictable and simple-minded compared to this psychological horror tour de force. Peter Mullan's performance alone is in the caliber of Nicholson in The Shining and Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs.

What I wrote about Session 9 last year: "Those that know, know, yet Brad Anderson's magnificent walk through the condemned catacombs of Danvers State Hospital remains criminally underrated even within the horror community. This film was blessed with the happy accident of a subplot that if included would have severely damaged the extreme tension and psychosis found in Peter Mullan's flawless performance. The rest of the cast, yes even Caruso, hold their own and frankly this film towers over Anderson's more widely seen The Machinist."

Wednesday, February 16

Castle of the Walking Dead (Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel) (1967) - 1985 Saturn Productions VHS

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This gothic horror potboiler hailing from Germany was a mainstay back in the VHS era. Regal Home Video, Interglobal Home Video, Saturn Productions, and Magnum Entertainment (as Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism) each released their own tape throughout the '80s. While some the imagery like body parts protuding from trees along a stagecoach path is spooky, Christopher Lee seems very disinterested as a resurrected madman in need of one last virginal sacrifice to become completely human again.

This presentation is extensively edited for some unknown reason. The IMDB lists a runtime of 85 minutes and this tape barely runs over just an hour. The opening is absolutely butchered, as evidenced by the uncut start seen here compared to the Saturn start that completely chops out Lee getting fitted with the mask. Subsequently, Lee doesn't appear until forty-five minutes into this cut version. Print damage abounds, the print is yellowed, and sometimes there's even sprocket holes visible rolling by to the right of the picture. Nonetheless, Saturn Productions' SP-speed clamshell is much rarer than the cheap distributor's easily found, later regular cardboard slipcover.

Tuesday, February 15

Red Scorpion (1988) - 1989 SGE Home Video VHS

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The history behind Joseph Zito's Red Scorpion is more interesting than the film itself. Before disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced to prison after a broad fraud and conspiracy investigation, he co-wrote and produced this film with his brother. The work was supposed to espouse Abramoff's anti-Communist manifesto, but was marred by a troubled production of harsh African desert shooting, unpaid cast/crew members, Zito apparently taking "violent" liberties with the content, and the revelation financial backing partially came from the then pro-apartheid South African government. Ultimately, this actioner bombed and is often deemed as "propaganda" by critics of Abramoff.

I would bet those people haven't actually seen Red Scorpion because there's nothing anti-Communist or pro-apartheid about it. Sure, those evil Russians are the villains, but that was simply commonplace in the era of Reagan. All the Abramoffs prove, once again, is that generic-action-movie Russian baddies are bad and generic-action-movie Russian baddies manning Russian gunship choppers while in cahoots with the Cubans are even badder. I mean, how bad can the Russians really be when Lundgren, playing their top Spetsnaz asskicker, eventually sees the error of his ways, casts off his dog tags, and sides with African rebel forces? The depiction of the African people negates any pro-apartheid influence. They're either peaceful bushmen tribes living in the expansive red sands or armed villagers searching for freedom from their Russian oppression.

It's best to view this Dolph vehicle as your usual explosive '80s bullshit with heaps of unintentional homoerotism. A bare-chested and short-shorted Lundgren hot muscles through the one-dimensional role, mumbles lines, and maintains a constant oil gleam. A damp M. Emmet Walsh is a hoot making the best out of the difficult shoot; chewing the dusty scenery with a stream of quips and hanging out of a truck window blasting away with a shotgun. The late Brion James shows up as a tough Ruskie, and along with the Cuban military leader, just barely pull off their respective accents. Straw huts explode, squibs rip open, transport vehicles roll, and Lundgren sports a gun as long as his torso (again with the innuendo). Red Scorpion is curiously compelling for the bullet happy camp that it ends up being. An action film of the road less traveled seemingly moving along in roundabout ways unlike the Sly and Arnold product of the decade. A nice and underappreciated change of pace from the expected norms.

Shaprio Glickenhaus Entertainment's SP-speed VHS presents the feature in unmatted full frame in its R-rated version. A slightly longer version surfaced in Japan with a few scene extensions and gory addition to a key limb-ripping scene. This SGE VHS seems much harder to find compared to the later, very poor quality EP-speed tape from Starmaker. I found this SGE edition this past weekend; the first time I've ever ran across it. A trailer for the sweetly comical alien hokum Moontrap (1989) starring Walter Koenig and Bruce Campbell precedes the feature. Simitar and Key DVD also released Red Scorpion on disc, but they're both the shorter version. A few months ago, the great Synapse Films announced a remastered uncut release for DVD and Blu-ray, along with James Glickenhaus' The Exterminator and Scott Spiegel's Intruder:

"Then there’s ’89’s RED SCORPION, with Dolph Lundgren as a KGB agent rebelling against his superiors and taking up arms alongside African rebels “It’s Joe Zito [director, also of FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER and THE PROWLER],” May notes. “It has Tom Savini effects. It’s awesome. We will also be remastering this film in 2K HD. We understand there are some additional scenes floating around, and we have found what seems to be a longer, but older, master of the film, labeled in the vault as ‘Long Version.’ We’re going to search the vaults high and low for the most complete version and the original negative material. It may take a lot of research to find the additional footage on film, but we’re up to the challenge. Savini may have some behind-the-scenes video, and if so, it’ll be fun to showcase some of that stuff. We’ll have extras, but it’s early yet, so we have to wait and see what we can come up with.” Both EXTERMINATOR and SCORPION will be issue on DVD and Blu-ray!"
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Monday, February 14

Pieces (Mil gritos tiene la noche) (1982) - 1984 Vestron Video Unrated VHS

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Juan Piquer Simón's Pieces is a odd little slasher being one of the first European riffs on the American-born subgenre itself riffed from Italy's gialli. It's best likened to a collision of slasher cliché submerged in the sweaty subversiveness of Romano Scavolini's Nightmare (1980) with gialli adornments like obviously dubbed actors from a kaleidoscope of nationalities and a black-gloved murderer piecing together a bloody puzzle of a nude woman--both figuratively and literally. The bigger names on the cover are slumming, especially Christopher George as generic detective guy, who has none of the approachable charisma seen in Fulci's The Gates of Hell (Paura nella città dei morti viventi) (1980). The surprisingly gory killings are logistically laughable; apparently horrific shrieking of both girl and gasoline-powered saw attract little attention only after the slaughter and quiet getaway.

Although one shouldn't hold Pieces' stupid logic against it. There's countless other slash n' hacks that are neither funny or gory in any sense when compared to Simón's early '80s freakout. Vestron was a reliable company at delivering uncut presentations and this VHS (and Beta release) is no different. Otherwise, snag Grindhouse Releasing's uncut special edition DVD, this tape is pretty poor looking with tons of damage, bad zooming, and soupy darkness. More irritating than nostalgic in this case...

Sunday, February 13

Some quick thoughts on I Spit on Your Grave: Unrated (2010)

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A backwoods yarn of rape and revenge...but little else.

Akin to what happens to one of the lowlifes in Steven R. Monroe's remake of Meir Zarchi's infamous exploitation epic, setting out to watch I Spit on Your Grave '10 is like walking into a bear trap. If you know anything about the 1978 original, it's obvious this undiluted revision will be an endurance test and Jennifer Hills' plight certainly still is. To their stylistic credit; Monroe, cast, and Anchor Bay Films stick close to the source material's naked brutality from both sides of perpetrator and victim straight on through to the box office compromising unrated theatrical run. Exploitation is still very much alive if this film is any indicator. The problem is, much like the original, it's hard to decipher any real point to the depiction of such ugliness.

Although the "ugliness" referred to isn't Hills' subsequent revenge, that's just your average modern horror torture, but the repeated rape of the character. This will reveal my viewing limitations, but I believe the topic of rape is impossible to make work in meaningful condemnation within the context of such shock exploitation. Films like Agustí Villaronga's In a Glass Cage (1987) and Gaspar Noé's Irreversible (2002) do a tremendous job of synthesizing the inhumanity of the act. Both I Spit on Your Graves merely hang their hats on the abhorrent deed as an additional layer of extreme not usually tread upon. I'm sorry, but "feminist cinema" my ass...

The amplified juxtaposition between the rape and vengeance is what hurts this remake. Rape is very real and very portrayed as reality here. It's utterly wince-inducing to the point your eyes ache as you reach for the volume and fast-forward buttons. The story then quiets way down as Hill simply vanishes and time passes as we follow the rapists trying to find her while trying to keep things hush-hush. The woman's re-emergence and scumbag entrapments are grounded in a sense of reality-based logical, but still end up feeling too easily carried out in their Jigsaw-like glee. It's all very "horror flick" and comes off as ridiculous when compared to prior events. Rape could be occurring right next door. Even between a married couple, or to a child, or the elderly. Duct taping a subdued man's head to a tree, inserting fishhooks into his eyelids to keep them open, and slathering fish guts on his face to attract hungry crows? What was that again? Saw 4, or Hostel 2, or Captivity, or...?

This is where Zarchi's original excels with its atmosphere of simplicity were a gun, noose, and knife were the embodiment of Hills' rage. Not prop-heavy orchestrations of torture killings with little desperate remorse or resistance shown by the rapists. Monroe's remake portrays the scenario with "real" wish fulfillment from the male rapist perspective and dream-like fulfillment from the female victim. A slap in the face to rape victims of both genders everywhere. And don't think the 1978 film is off-the-hook, it's still reprehensible toward the truth of degradation, just much less so when considering Hills' more earthy wraith and the film being crafted as pure money grabbing exploitation.

If anything, I Spit on Your Grave '10 is sure to rock the sensibilities of the unaware plucking it off Wal Mart shelves for the knife and butt cleavage on the cover. It's undoubtedly a better crafted and acted film than its source with a few welcoming psychological facial ticks. Although with lessened impact being in league with a mainstream reality of multi-million earning Saws and Hostels clogging screens and used DVD racks. Thirty-two years later, we've reached the plateau of ISoYG once again, and once again, its proven still too much.

Anchor Bay's DVD features a solid anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer preserving the film's (annoyingly) bleached-out appearance along with a Dolby 5.1 track. It's funny how DVD image quality has generally increased after the debut of Blu-ray. The standard definition format certainly isn't as good, but within its limits needless digital tampering designed to make the picture appear artifically better has lessened. There's zero edge enhancement or noise reduction to speak of to hamper the benefits of a good display and upconverting DVD player. The supplements mirror the Blu-ray edition with a director/producer commentary, sixteen minute making-of, deleted scenes, and trailers.                 
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Saturday, February 12

Romano Scavolini's Nightmare (1981) on YouTube...

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So what, right? What makes these nine segments interesting is that they're from a 1.85:1 print carrying the 21st Century Distribution logo, not a VHS source. The type of damage seen throughout is also reflective of this. The total runtime of all the segments is 1:32:52, so it's uncut with all the gore intact, but doesn't include the extended scenes that pad the film to around 98 minutes. Also notice the jump cut in the opening credits between "Introducing C.J. Cooke" and "Director of Photography Gianni Fiore". On the VHS editions, Tom Savini's credit is in between these as "Special Effects Director", so wherever these were originally derived has to be at a later point after Savini demanded his named taken off the feature.


Friday, February 11

The Initiation (1984) - 1985 Thorn EMI Video VHS

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Wednesday, February 9

Alien (1979) - 1981 Magnetic Video Corporation (MVC) Laser Videodisc

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The first LaserDisc release of Ridley Scott's Alien that accompanied its first VHS and Betamax cassette releases from the first studio releasing two of the formats in North America. Two LD set with the first two sides in CLV extended play (one hour) and the last side in CAV standard play (half hour). The CAV disc has an un-reflective "dead" side with no information recorded on it. You can actually see the glue when the disc was pressed through the clear side (seen here). Later on, studios mirrored the dead side to look like the recorded side.

Like many LDs this early, the discs are suffering laser rot with speckling throughout, and the CX Stereo audio track is quite harsh. This theatrical version presentation is panned-and-scanned full screen, but certainly looks far superior to tape-based formats especially in close-ups. Unlike "modern" LDs; there's no chapters, alternate audio track, or minutes/seconds display (the player only displays minutes when this is played). $34.95 MSRP in early '80s money. Visit here for more information on MVC's Laserdiscs.

Monday, February 7

Femme Fatale Article: Caroline Munro: The Black Cat by Alan Jones

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Interesting little article from the pages of Femme Fatale (09/00/Vol.7/4&5 "Hammer Vamps" double issue) concerning Luigi Cozzi's still seldom seen Demons 6: De Profundis (Il gato nero/The Black Cat) (1989) (thoughts here). Most odd is the lack of noting how Italian producers weaseled their way out of fully paying Munro for her involvement, which can be read about over at Lost Video Archive in a 1991 Fangoria article. Shades of Adrien Brody's recent problems with Argento's Giallo.

Sunday, February 6

Phantasm (1979) - 1980 Magnetic Video Corporation Betamax (MAG1 Cassette)

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The first home video release of Don Coscarelli's classic and amongst the first horror titles available on video in North America. Unsure where it fell in order, but it appears only Blood of the Vampire (1958), The Omen (1976), Night Watch (1973), Welcome to Arrow Beach (1974), and Alien (1979) either preceded this one or were released the same year in Magnetic Video's horror catalog. The pioneering studio debuted The Fog (1980) and Carrie (1976) (scan here) on video the following year. Very rare to find this release in such great condition.

Saturday, February 5

Picking Up The Pieces (Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh) (1991) - Pack-In-Video Japan VHS

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You know you're in for trouble whenever an Alan Smithee directorial credit appears. Although Dean Tschetter's Picking Up The Pieces seemed doomed to start with. The story of two bumbling, gruff detectives chasing a mysterious killer harvesting body parts with power tools drenched in the quirky humor of David Zucker's Naked Gun series from the period. Not only was this horror comedy hard to categorize, which means hard to market, but a producer with final cut mutilated the director's original intention. Then, instead of understanding the comedic value of the Tom Savini-supplied goofy gore like the BBFC's fully uncut pass of Peter Jackson's Braindead (Dead Alive) in the U.K., the MPAA sloppily gutted the violence for an R-rating.

Despite the odd Bloodsucking Pharaohs re-title, this Paramount Pictures-distributed mess bombed and quickly vanished. It's not as bad as its sour reputation, especially for those who enjoy the late '80s primes of Fred Olen Ray and David DeCoteau. Given the brand of comedy, it's a love-or-hate proposition, and even then it's something you have to be in the mood for. Savini's effects are unfairly busted on with all the MPAA cuts; some cool stuff somewhat survives like a brutal face melt/rip (seen on the cover). The film was granted a VHS release and eventual special feature-stacked DVD release from Power Programs Entertainment. The disc has a director/producer commentary, director interview, producer interview, deleted scenes, and a bunch of paper-based stuff from the production via DVD-ROM. The full frame transfer is a video master reflective of the R-rated cut and actually looks very nice aside from persistent mosquito noise buzzing around edges.

One thing the DVD doesn't have is four extensions to gory sequences seen on this full frame Japanese tape. This came as a complete surprise since the back states 89 minutes. The first difference is lack of the Paramount Pictures logo seen on the DVD. It's strange how Paramount gave grief over Full Moon trying to release the Puppet Master series on disc while BPiP's DVD remained in-print until Power Programs folded. The second VHS change is the print retaining the Picking Up The Pieces title and featuring much more damage than the DVD's transfer (workprint?). The tape also has a murky green tint with a certain subtle smear to motion compared to the sharp and neutral color of the DVD.

But the tape excels where it counts. Three of the murders; the girl in need of a quarter for a phone call, the brutal face ripping (complete with blood exploding eyes), and climatic demise of the villain match the uncut sequences seen on the DVD's time-coded deleted scenes. Just without any picture degradation or time-code. Also early in the film, the detectives are chasing a man in an alley who they just can't put down. The man tries to open a warehouse door and is shot through the head with a huge blood splat on the door only to get up again and run some more. On the DVD, the shot of the guy's brains blowing is entirely missing in an extremely obvious cut. This snippet isn't even in the disc's deleted scenes. Sadly, the opening death scene witnessed uncut in the deleted scenes is butchered the same way on both the VHS and DVD. Still, Pack-In-Video's Japanese VHS is a genuine surprise and it's great to see the film in a more complete version.


Thursday, February 3

Some quick thoughts on Hatchet II (Unrated/2010) on Blu-ray

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From the back cover: Marybeth (Danielle Harris) recruits a team of hired guns including Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd) and returns to the bayou to exact her revenge, but quickly discovers that even with an army of hunters at her side, the murderous fury of Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) cannot be contained. Ultimately, it will be up to Marybeth alone to defeat the seemingly indestructible Crowley, but not before learning the truth about a twisted secret he shares with her own family!

At the risk of being punched directly in the face by Johnny of Freddy in Space, who admirably did more than any other blogger to support Adam Green's follow-up to his 2006 Hatchet, I didn't care for this sequel whatsoever. For no reason in particular, I sat out on the first film until its Blu-ray release last September. Looking back to my prior thoughts, after enduring Victor Crowley's return many of those soft complaints are up for the positive side of reassessment. Those who deride Hatchet primarily do so over its wafer-thin-nothing-new-ness; however, on those grounds Hatchet II should be the actual target. A shame considering the rapid theatrical controversy this past October because this one ultimately wasn't worth fighting for--"real horror" or whatever. If only the same brouhaha revolved around the superior initial Crowley bloodbath.

Hatchet II is a standard slasher of the most standard terms that wants it both ways. Green takes pains to wink of fans while laboring to keep newcomers abreast of the pre-established whys/whos/hows. Something almost required to a point, but both aspects are so overdone that we arrive at a retread of another swamp-bound group getting ripped asunder by the time the majority of cute references and background exposition is done. Just look at Steve Miner's Friday the 13th: Part II (1981) for a sequel that barely touches upon past events, utilizing a beginning dream sequence, before setting out to become one of the greatest part twos in slasher history on its own grounds. I get a lot of shit for being obsessed with Rob Zombie's Halloween II, but again, there's a bold sequel that explodes expectations based on both the original series and Zombie's Halloween. All things that appear to be a foreign language to Hatchet's vernacular.      

If Green truly wanted this franchise(?) to rejuvenate American horror, at least that's what the first purported to want to do, letting a slew of details about Hatchet's plot weigh down its sequel makes everything cumbersome at best for its target audience. These concessions also hurt the character of Marybeth who seems to have suddenly lost knowledge of certain details just so they can be explained again here. So not only is Harris, and her shaky southern drawl, new to the role, but the role itself feels entirely unlike Tamara Feldman's Marybeth. And regardless, if Crowley's first stab didn't catch mainstream audiences, a sequel no matter the quality hasn't a chance. Treading water and fan service to such a degree are long passé and only inhibit the film from doing anything interesting or refreshing. Oh and yeah, Tony Todd and R.A. Mihailoff appear, but don't leave any kind of impression. Boy, Candyman is great...  

The practical effects from Robert Pendergraft aren't as good as those from the more seasoned John Carl Buechler. Maybe Green had a point about a rumored MPAA vendetta because there's honestly not that much gore. Everything is tempered with comedy deflating the brutality of Crowley's unconventional uses of power tools not covered in their instruction manuals. Even Crowley's revised appearance is tacky, looking like a bulky pissed off kidney bean that dampens the hulking physicality of Hodder displayed in Crowley Ver.1. What can I say? Hatchet II should rage like the scared vengeance of its wannabe icon; instead this much anticipated sequel does nothing while doing nothing new. And poorly at that once past the hype and good intention. Just like a bunch of others in the subgenre.

Dark Sky Films' Blu-ray features a 1:78.1 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer that looks solid for a film shot in high definition natively (unlike the 35mm Hatchet). So gone is the nice layer of grain replaced with a smooth video-like appearance that actually makes this one look cheaper in contrast. Green's direction borders on rushed with many cramped actor shots so we at least get loads of facial detail. The back cover only states Dolby 5.1, but the disc does indeed include both lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 PCM audio tracks. Although I should have just rented...

Wednesday, February 2

Disregard the A/V idiots, Last House on the Left's Blu-ray looks tremendous...

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Reading around a few A/V forums, I was expecting the worst from MGM's Blu-ray of Craven's The Last House on the Left released this week exclusively at Best Buy for $9.99. Every comment I've come across so far has been negative or wish-washy. Being shot on Super 16mm, the film will always have a soft appearance, but damn, this Blu-ray has substantially more natural grain and color compared to any of the DVDs. In terms of looking true to its film source, it stands with the Anchor Bay/Starz reference quality Evil Dead Blu-ray. Anyone who has actually seen the film time-and-time again will be nothing but impressed. Not Blu-ray-obsessed snobs who have probably never even seen the prior DVDs...or have ever seen the film before...or even knew about this classic until its arrival on the format. This 50GB Blu-ray of the restored extended version sports a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer, lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track, and all the extras found on both of MGM's DVDs. Thank you MGM.

(photos of my 720p DLP through a 60GB PS3 @ 720p, Blu-ray looks better in-person)

Tuesday, February 1

Phantasm (1979) - 1984 Embassy Home Entertainment VHS

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Watching this tape for the first time last night after only seeing the MGM and Anchor Bay discs makes me question how Phantasm is actually supposed to look. The source is a beat-up print with defects galore, and even though you can't judge what the negative looks like (or should look like) from a print, it's hard not to ponder why there's such substantive differences. This VHS is much brighter than the DVDs with vastly more vibrancy to colors. It's an immediate change from the digital incarnation's rather dim, eroded color scheme.

Individual sequences also look different, like when Mike and the girls drive upon Reggie's wrecked ice cream truck and the subsequent dwarf attack. On this tape, the scenes have a strong reddish tint while the discs have a "normalized" cobalt gray hue. The thing is that on the tape the intercut shots of Jody resting at home aren't tinted red, so it appears the warm tint was intended. Sometimes the VHS looks too bright, but the entire film looks markedly different and I dare say better in many instances. Of course, the DVDs have an definite edge in detail, despite not being excellent transfers (both the MGM and AB look nearly identical save for 16x9 enhancement on the latter).

Embassy's tape isn't that rare, find the earlier Magnetic Video release for a gem, although check it out if you run across it cheap. The presentation is uncut and unmatted with more top and bottom picture information than the (also uncut) DVDs. As for Phantasm itself, c'mon, it's one of the most creative horror films to emerge from the '70s and I personally grow fonder to Coscarelli's wild imagination with each viewing. An absolutely essential piece for every horror fan's library. Gotta wonder which "appearance" is more accurate to his intentions though...

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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