Saturday, December 31

The White Buffalo (1977) - DEG/King Records Japan VHS

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It's easy to see why J. Lee Thompson's bit of historical revisionist fluff concerning Wild Bill Hickok, played by Charles Bronson, venturing after an enormous white buffalo that haunts his dreams failed to spark the interest of moviegoers and critics upon release. Not only was the Western genre in hibernation at the time, but the movie reeks of low production value with cheap wardrobe, "western town" studio backlot sets, and a barely above made-for-television atmosphere (remembering television features were pretty great back then). Although intended to take a mythological tone, the cumbersome animatronic buffalo is unconvincing as a real animal puffing and galloping along hidden rail tracks like part of a Disneyland attraction. Spielberg's Jaws shot the bar sky high for creature features like this, producer Dino De Laurentiis purposely wished to ape that classic here, and Lucas' maiden voyage telling past tales of a galaxy far away certainly didn't help.

But that doesn't mean The White Buffalo isn't entertaining in hindsight. Like many Bronson flicks, it's perfect over a reheated, greasy sub with extra hots at two in the morning as you try futilely to eat something to quell an impeding hangover. Charley is a bit limited, the screenplay doesn't get too deep into any real Wild Bill insight, but the portrayal does retain the gunfighter's rumored case of syphilis with the actor wearing dark sunglasses to ward off worsening light sensitivity. Will Sampson does what he was known for playing a disgraced Native American chief in search of redemption after the beast rampages through and kills many in his tribe. Jack Warden eventually joins in to assist Hickok in his quest but ultimately can't grow to trust the redman also after their prize. A host of familiar faces such as Clint Walker, Stuart Whitman, Ed Lauter, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, and even Martin Kove populate modest roles and walk-ons. I would mention Kim Novak, but the actress is barely in the film as an innkeeper Hickok has prior history with. Innocuous stuff that might actually be a good Bronson primer for little ones as there's only a few splashes of super bright blood mixed into the adventurous folklore.

Thursday, December 29

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) - RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video Screener VHS

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I've always enjoyed Jeff Burr's contribution to this series, despite New Line's heavy hand in the production and a fair share of fan criticism thrown its way. Like Tobe Hooper's realization that everything his original is could never be tapped into again when approaching the second sequel, I always took Leatherface for what it is and never made comparisons to the 1974 classic. It's just hard not to like Ken Foree as a gun-totin' weekend warrior, Tom Everett being all mumbly and awesome as Alfredo, and Joe Unger saying stuff like "Technology is our friend." and "Go get the meat!". Not to mention Leatherface's increasing frustration in mistaking a clown as "FOOD" on his newly acquired electronic kid's learning game. A very early '90s feeling horror film that makes a great companion to New Line's F13 debut, Jason Goes to Hell (1993).

This screener isn't anything special representing the theatrical R-rated version. The full frame picture quality is sketchy with damage and reel cues with audible pops after these changes. Oddly enough the sparse on-screen "not for sale or rental" text usually appears around the time these burns occur. A video trailer appears before the film that begins like the regular trailer but then breaks into a quick montage of snippets, after Leatherface spins around with his saw, to the tune of Laaz Rockit's Leatherface from the official soundtrack.

(notice how Ken Foree is mistakenly credited has "Ken Force" on the back)

Tuesday, December 27

Monday, December 26

Night Warning (Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker) (1983) - 1983 Thorn EMI Video Betamax

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Really going to have pull this one down and finally watch it! Also thank you everyone for 300k hits!

Sunday, December 25

Saturday, December 24

Some quick thoughts on The Wax Mask (M.D.C. - Maschera di cera) (1997)

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Originally conceived as a comeback for a long ailing Lucio Fulci who passed shortly before production began, The Wax Mask is a twist on the tradition of House of Wax set at the dawn of the 20th century in Paris. A master wax sculptor (Robert Hossein) harboring a "mechanical" secret and his apprentice are adding to their public collection by way of kidnapping and brutal chemical treatments. A young, beautiful assistant (Romina Mondello) with troubling childhood experiences joins the duo and unwittingly becomes their prey. Her only hope rests in the hands of a reporter (Riccardo Longhi) both snooping around as death haunts the waxworks and courting the fare maiden.

At the risk of pissing off The Wax Mask's fans who deem it as proof gothic horror was still kicking in '97, the impression left from SFX artist Sergio Stivaletti's directorial debut was more period soap opera than Mario Bava. Before you heave your tomatoes and breadsticks understand that this prim and proper quality actually leads to an bittersweet observation in regards to the state of Italian horror.

By the time this dedication to Fulci debuted, the country's cinematic sea change from capitalistic to artistic had already taken hold and there's hints of this riddled throughout. There's almost no veteran genre holdovers inhabiting minor roles in a cast of near total Italian descent. International distribution probably wasn't a priority as the shooting language was obviously Italian with the English dub making little effort to match lips (think Godzilla). And in spite of being directed by a man capable of ample amounts of screen mayhem, the gore is sparse and placed aside in favor of a "purposeful" atmosphere and costumes reminiscent of Mel Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995). Just without the comedy, that is. The rich orchestral score by Maurizio Abeni also shuns any electronic doodling with a sound echoing Danny Elfman's work on Burton's two Batmans. Serious business, folks.

So while competently made, the mood begins to wane as the story lumbers along to its inevitable climax between the girl (strapped nude to a tortuous chair for "waxing"), her lover, and madman. It's a shame that this exercise in "restructuring" what it meant to be a horror film produced in Italy lost that vital something in translation (there's even a couple CG effects). Ultimately, The Wax Mask is an interesting curiosity but there's a reason Michele Soavi's 1994 Dellamorte Dellamore has become the official page break of the industry. Pony Canyon's Japanese LaserDisc looks and sounds very solid framed at 1.66:1 widescreen. The picture quality is actually nicer than Image's long out-of-print DVD which manages to have crispy edge enhancement and clumpy textures. I often forgot I was watching an LD...
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The Cruelest Fate...

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Noticed this cover change stopping at Big Lots this morning. Not even mediocre DTV sequels deserve this...

Friday, December 23

Specters (Spettri) (1987) - Canadian Norstar Home Video, Inc. VHS

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Despite its slagged on reputation, there's nothing really wrong with Marcello Avallone's Specters (Spettri) outside of it being a quite slow and cookie-cutter affair. Donald Pleasence heads up a team of young archaeologists who uncover a crypt forewarning of evil, naturally the evil is set free, some bulky-looking green muscular demon begins dispatching those that dare poke around, and it comes down to a race against the clock to seal the tomb forever before it's too late (of course).

While Avallone avoids making the Italian production look overly cheap, there's very little meat and the English dubbing often times sounds extremely disinterested. The rubbery demon's kills are also very quick and I wouldn't be surprised to hear they were trimmed (apparently the Japanese tape is uncut). Norstar's VHS is identical to the stateside Imperial Entertainment release right down to carrying Imperial's opening logo.

Wednesday, December 21

Some quick thoughts on The Expendables (Director's Cut) (2011)

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Upon repeat viewings of Sly's geriatric twilight-life crisis, the single biggest problem, and the issue most likely alienating those looking for something other than big dumb action, is how The Expendables places the onus on the audience to have a general sense of the characters and story based on prior experiences with big dumb action flicks before witnessing a single frame. In other words, the viewer is dropped headlong into the proceedings without your traditional first installment set-up. The film is aware that most moviegoers have seen this all before with its conceit being while there's nothing new here, that's never been done with such a dream team of genre heavyweights/regulars.

Such "concept action" is both refreshing and frustrating. It's nice to skip the usual formalities to get to what you came, or paid, to see. To venture into another genre, this is one of the big quibbles I have with Freddy vs. Jason (2003). For such a horror fan wet dream come true, the film drags through the parts involving the living when most only care about is seeing two slasher titans tear each other asunder. While The Expendables lacks much of this bullshit, what's there that isn't exploding bodies or bricks feels like little more than vignettes for each big marquee name to chew away at. Statham gets the girl, Lundgren goes nuts, Stallone's eyes look fucking weird, Couture gets a speech, Rourke bares his lack of soul, and so on...

So when Stallone intros this new Director's Cut Blu-ray, in costume on the set of the sequel, stating this version is his intended, "more human" vision; I couldn't help groan just a little. Some character building would definitely help, but its brutal edge need not be dulled. Thankfully, or perhaps annoyingly, it's essentially the same film with so many predominately small alterations that it becomes tough to keep track. Not only has Stallone added new chunks, but also trimmed/deleted bits, re-ordered scenes, replaced specific shots with different angles, and changed certain dialogue passages. Most surprisingly, Lundgren's Gunnar Jensen is the most fleshed out of the characters in the DC adding more dimension to what was a flat performance in the theatrical version.

What's sorely lacking is any change to Jet Li's embarrassing Ying Yang. We still get his unexplained rambling about needing more money for his family and being shorter than the rest of the team. Li's English is painfully rusty yet there's a clear sense he'd rather be doing another historical mega-epic in his homeland than playing sixth fiddle in an ensemble cast. Given how quiet Li's involvement in the sequel has been, it's a good bet "Ying Yang" will be the one to meet the slab in the sequel. This would also make sense with the arc of Lundgren's character. Maybe Yang and Jensen are on a dangerous sidejob for extra cash in which Yang is mortally wounded with Jensen desperate to save him. Yang dies and despite being the man that almost killed him in the first film, Jensen now finds a reason to live and never betray the team again to avenge Yang's death. Queue the resurrection of Dolph Lundgren.

The two most obvious changes are the opening credits and final siege after the enormous palace denotation. The credits have a meditative tone as we watch quiet moments with each of the team members on the flight home after mutilating a dozen or so Somali pirates. The huge climatic battle now has Shinedown's Diamond Eyes playing in its entirety, and while that sounds potentially irritating, it actually greatly helps the manic energy of the sequence over the theatrical's choice of Brian Tyler's score.

So while this Director's Cut may not change the opinion of those that didn't like the prior cut, those that enjoyed it will find a better, leaner, and meaner version of a big dumb action flick that certainly doesn't escape that label even with the myriad of well-intended "human" changes. The sequel has the potential to make this film better if it manages to build off this one's unanswered questions. The only problem with this Blu-ray is how there's zero supplemental material covering the extensive work done to create this new version. Not even a new commentary. Boo.
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Monday, December 19

Japanese LaserDisc for 1¢ (+ $6 shipping)

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Sorry about another entry about a Japanese LD for a second day in a row, but I'm still all giddy over what arrived today. This one was spotted last week on eBay without any mention of being the Japanese edition beside a picture of the cover. Amazingly, I won with the starting bid of one shiny penny and six bucks shipping. Perhaps even more amazing is that the seller came through and the LD traveled across the entire country via UPS Ground intact. Too awesome!


(notice how one of the chapters is named "Fuck you, asshole")

Sunday, December 18

Prison (1988) - 1988 NEC Avenue Japan LaserDisc

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Very badass LaserDisc came in yesterday, Renny Harlin's contribution to the late '80s/early '90s mini-wave of lock up-themed horror, Prison, on the NEC Avenue label from Japan. There's nothing special about the presentation outside of the cover being so damn cool. The full frame picture is noticeably more colorful and sharper than the dark and greenish-tinted Japanese VHS. MGM owns the domestic rights to this film, so there's probably going be a Limited Edition DVD-R release eventually...    

Saturday, December 17

Ratman (Quella villa in fondo al parco) (1988) - 1998 Albatros Co., Ltd. Japan VHS

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My best guess is that Ratman's production company, Fulvia Film, figured it would be a solid investment to build a horror feature around one of the shortest people alive, Nelson de la Rosa, for merely exploitative marketing purposes. De la Rosa plays the titular "rat man" created by a loon scientist in the tropics that escapes from his birdcage to murderously reek havoc on anyone who crosses his path.

Veterans David Warbeck and Janet Agren literally fly in for a payday, and while still looking great, only inhabit maybe forty percent of the runtime. The rest is devoted to a photographer (Werner Pochath), his top model (the busty Eva Grimaldi), and said scientist running afoul of the vicious, rodent version of Shortround. Spaghetti western stalwart director Giuliano Carnimeo was probably dying inside a little more with each passing day on set with the realization of just what he's helming. Certainly not primo Italian trash, but its always welcoming to see either Warbeck, despite not being dubbed by himself, or the beautiful Agren in such bygone hokum cruelly exploiting an individual's natural circumstances in life.

Albatros' VHS benefits from being fairly recent and looks great considering the murky lighting. The picture is framed oddly with a large top bar and very slim bottom bar but nothing seems trimmed. The tape starts with this trailer for Deadly Ransom (1997) and one specifically made for Ratman's Japanese video release (seen here). Also I'd bet the three mutilated limbs seen on the front cover below are actually snipped from real death photos. No idea why the Ratman is donning a red smock since he never does in the film. Maybe Albatros was trying make a connection to the crazed butcher-knife wielding midget in Don't Look Now (1973)...?!

Thursday, December 15

Good Mail Day...plus Full Moon Deals at Dollar General!

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I haven't confirmed this firsthand, but apparently Dollar General (and possibly also Family Dollar) have Full Moon's Subspecies Epic Collection and Puppet Master Collection box sets for only ten bucks a pop. That doesn't seem too great with Echo Bridge triple featuring these two series for $5 at Wal Mart; however, these ten buck sets were and are considerably more expensive online. It's still unclear which exact Puppet Master set they're selling, but it would be funny if it was the "complete" collection that at one time was commanding hundreds on eBay...until Full Moon mysteriously found more. Now it looks like the liquidators have come a knockin'...

...and hooray for mail!

Wednesday, December 14

Saturday, December 10

Semi-hiatus...maybe...

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Some really bad pain began in my lower left jaw Thursday night and I'm fairly certain I've earned a cavity of undetermined severity. I can't get it taken care of until later this coming week, so understandably I'm not too keen on concentrating enough to write until a visit is paid to Dr. Alan Feinstone. I'll be periodically checking in here and lingering on the Facebook, but entries on both might be slim for the next week or so. Depends on how I feel. Stuff is still streaming in through the mailbox like the tapes below. Kim's Krypt 2001 was found at a thrift shop this morning. Rotting teeth will not stop the hunt...

Wednesday, December 7

Some quick thoughts on Interzone (1987)

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Bruce Abbott (Re-Animator) stars as the badass in this late Italian Mad Max emulator enlisted by temple monks to protect an area seemingly immune to radiation, dubbed the "Interzone", from a gang of bandit thugs led by female bodybuilder Teagan Clive. The monks send one of their own, Panasonic (Kiro Wehara), to assist Abbott's Swan with ever cute Beatrice Ring (Zombie 3) joining in. Eventually, Swan realizes the only way to stop the marauders is to befriend them and try to sabotage their ranks from within.

It's 1987. Not only is the old guard of the Italian filmmaking industry dead on its feet but the post-apocalyptic subgenre has long since been regulated to the scrapheap of passé celluloid. So what are writer/director Deran Sarafian and co-writer Claudio Fragasso trying to accomplish with Interzone? Surprisingly, there's a streak of incidental Monty Python-esque humor running through all the usual abuses of tight leather and lush Rome countryside doubling as dystopian rubble. This aspect is so refreshing considering most admittedly goofy post-nuke pasta rips desperately trying to be stoic in their delivery while absurdity blooms all around. I personally don't care for most of these subgenre efforts from Italy for this reason, but Interzone successfully presents a more light-hearted take to help savage what would otherwise be a total footnote.

With the cast in on the fun, the dumb quips and out-of-blue laughs (i.e. - the monk leader is named General Electric) are the sole reason to seek this one out. There's even a strong resemblance to the opening of Army of Darkness (1992) when a shotgun-toting Abbott is thrown into a boggy cavern to face off with one of the Pit Bitch's relatives. Fun crap worth keeping an eye out for if taken as more a comedy and not as another scorched earth actioner. The full frame presentation on Tohokushinsha's Japanese VHS is identical to the North American Trans World Entertainment VHS.
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Monday, December 5

Some quick thoughts on Conjure (or Matt Busch: The Movie) (2006)

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From the IMDB: Finding his high profile illustration career to be less than meaningful, Matt Busch sets out to find a more rewarding personal project. Visiting a nearby graveyard, Matt stumbles upon an old photograph of a South-American castle. Obsessed with the photo, Matt begins to bring the castle to life with a vibrant full-color painting. At the same time, he creates sinister sketches of the tortured souls who he imagines inhabit the gothic dwelling. While Matt creates his cryptic world in his studio, his girlfriend Sarah is confronted with ghostly encounters throughout the rest of the home. Eventually the art becomes so real, that Matt and Sarah find themselves manifested in the actual castle and must confront the demonic spirits conjured from Matt's twisted nightmares...

Unbeknownst to me, writer/director/producer/star Matt Busch is an accomplished artist and self-proclaimed "rock star of illustration" of pop culture the likes of Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and a slew of other hot properties. With such a talent essentially playing himself, you'd think Conjure's premise would write itself, yet ultimately it's an exercise in vanity by Busch that's more interesting for what it's not.

The film trips into the usual problems that often plague extremely cheap, digital video horror. It takes far too long to do nothing and relies on nonsensical "fright" montages to push the story along as important details that could have instead filled the runtime are heaved to the wayside. An example being a random book Busch pulls from his art supply shelf containing aged, Tom Sullivan-like Necronomicon pages depicting strange symbols and terrifying female spectres. These ghosts eventually haunt Busch and his squeeze, but there's zero explaination of how the book, obviously drawn by the artist, came to be. It seems logical to instead have the manifestations increase in their spectral intensity as Busch draws each page as the story unfolds. Yet no, soon after the discovery of the ready-made tome, we're treated to a bunch of quick cutting imagery of the ghosts before Busch and girlfriend mysteriously end up in front of the very castle he's been driven to paint.

Another problem arises in the lack of chemistry between the couple. Even in the most dire circumstances, their reactions range from annoyance to wanting to get back home in time for the game. I guess having stroke-like symptoms in your studio while your girlfriend watches garners a snippy response from her. Or subsequently waking up in front of an abandoned "castle" in a South American jungle receiving something of an "aw shucks, let's explore" instead of complete and abject fucking terror, even after Busch admits he's had visions of the place before and there's no escape. In other words, the passion in his artwork definitely doesn't translate to the screen.

Conjure's main genre influence is blatantly The Evil Dead, which makes me question Busch's interest in horror, considering the trite and immature choice. No offense, but let's face it, Raimi's landmark of indie horror is the film every also-ran in indie horror desperately wants to emulate, so even tipping your hat to it is groan-inducing. Yes, Ashley and the Deadites are fucking awesome, we all know this, time to blaze your own trail. Guess what Busch has to do with the pages of the book to finally vanquish the demons? 

With more finesse and less echoes of Carly Simon's 1972 mega-hit, Conjure could have proven something akin to a preemptive Paranormal Activity. As this one stands, Busch's heartless sell of his film in this interview over at The Blood Sprayer says it all: "It started off as an experiment, but Conjure was my very first feature length movie that I made myself. I play myself in the movie, and I draw all these really creepy tortured souls that come to life and try to kill me and my girlfriend. Eventually we get manifested into this painting of a South American castle. Survival horror ensues, and we need to find a way back. When it found distribution, the movie actually became the highest pre-selling horror movie of all time, according to Horror-Movies.com." Such (robotic) passion!
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Saturday, December 3

I've finally moved up in the world...of high end stereo 8-track

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...now I just need to find something other than the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack! 

Thursday, December 1

My first "carded" Japanese VHS!

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Many tapes from Japan come with info cards/pamphlets usually always lost with time, but not this one!

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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