Monday, August 17, 2015

TRICK OR TREATS (1982) Blu-Ray from Code Red Releasing

Code Red spine No. 39, limited edition 1,050 print run, exclusive to Screen Archives:


Previously completely unknown to me, I popped the disc in expecting a bad "Halloween" knock off. It certainly has elements of John Carpenter's classic slasher, but it is a bit more than JUST a knock off. After a few scenes, it became apparent that this was a comedy, and I was on board. The set up is typical of a lot of 80's slasher films. A babysitter on Halloween is visited by a deranged killer. Along the way, the babysitter (along with the audience) is annoyed, nearly to death, by the little boy she is babysitting, who is an aspiring magician. His "tricks" fall into "Harold and Maude" territory as he fakes death and dismemberment, nearly driving his sitter crazy. In the opening scene, the little boy's mother has her husband committed to a mental institution. He dresses in drag in order to escape and hilarity ensues. David Carradine shows up in a pretty meaningless, but silly and funny, role as the mother's new boyfriend. Once I realized what the movie was trying to do, I really warmed to it and enjoyed it. The "Problem Child" meets "Halloween " premise is a lot of fun. The film has a really great ending, as well. The great Orson Welles was credited on the film as "magical consultant." To what extent that's true, I have no idea, despite researching.


Even by Code Red standards, the disc is fairly bare. As with most Code Red and Scorpion releases, you have the option to watch the film in "Katarina's Bucket List Mode," with Elvira-like intro and outro.

The bulk of the special features is the audio commentary with actors Jackie Giroux, Peter Jason, Chris Graver, and cinematographer R. Michael Stringer, moderated by the director's (Gary Graver) son, Sean Graver. The participants have a lot of fun and lots of laughs, though it's not as informative as more recent commentaries on Code Red releases. Still, a great addition and I'm glad it's on the disc.

The final extra is a brief audio interview with actor Steve Railsback about his work on the film. It's only about four minutes, but still great to hear.


As a complete blind buy, I'm extremely happy with the disc. If you're a slasher completist, or a fan of horror comedy, it's a must own. There is a very brief audio sync issue about 11 minutes into the film that last a few seconds at most. I tried to find out the reason for this and according to a few sources (including Bill of Code Red himself) on the forums, this issue is a part of the source material and appeared on previous home video and broadcast releases of the film as well. Apparently, it was a bad dubbing job that never got fixed back when the film was made.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Underrated Blu-Ray and DVD Discs that Deserve Your Attention

As much as we love to complain about transfers, release delays, and bad cover art, we live in a golden time for home video nerds. Every week, in addition to getting new movies on Blu Ray and DVD, we also get handfuls of catalog, independent, rare movies in pristine high definition. With so much stuff coming out on a weekly basis, it's nearly impossible to keep up with everything (even more impossible to actually BUY everything). Every few weeks, I want to highlight some underrated releases that, for whatever reason, seem to have slipped through the cracks and passed everyone by. These underseen discs are absolutely worth your time and money!

1. THE FINAL TERROR (1983) Blu-Ray from Scream Factory

Despite being a huge fan of the slasher genre, I actively avoided this one due to the large amount of bad press it seemed to be getting. Not just the transfer, but the movie itself seemed to be getting lambasted as well. It's certainly not the greatest of the genre, but for fans of the killer-in-the-woods premise, it's a must see. It features early roles for Daryl Hannah and Joe Pantoliano, as well. On the subject of the transfer, it's not exactly pristine, but it is unarguably the best the film has ever looked. The film is prefaced with a warning from Scream Factory, that the original elements and camera negatives were lost and that this release was put together from a collection of privately owned prints. The company did the very best that they could with what they had and it shows. The grainy, scratchy, dirty nature of the elements lends to the tone of the movie. Don't listen to the bad press on this one, just check it out if you're a fan of slashers.

2. The Entire Eclipse Series from the Criterion Collection

I'm guilty of this myself, but it seems the blu ray only crowd have largely ignored this underrated, but extremely important series. The Eclipse Series is Criterion's DVD-only line of historically and culturally important films that, for whatever reason, the company decided not to put them out on blu ray. Either the elements aren't good enough to garner a high definition release, or perhaps there just aren't enough supplements to create a release that's up to snuff in the eyes of the company, or maybe the films themselves aren't well known enough to rationalize the jump to blu ray. Just because these films aren't on the top tier format, does not mean that there are not absolute diamonds in this series. From early Akira Kurosawa to the offbeat world of Robert Downey Sr. and Norman Mailer, there are wildly important movies in these modestly priced box sets. Those of you who have commited to blu ray only from now own really should look into these sets. I recommend The First Films of Samuel Fuller , The Actuality Dramas of Allan King , Basil Dearden's London Underground, or When Horror Came to Shochiku .

3. THE IRON PETTICOAT (1956) Blu-Ray from the TCM Vault Collection

Turner Classic Movies have only released a handful of Blu Rays to this point, but they're all fantastic. The two bigger releases, Orson Welles' "The Lady from Shanghai" and Howard Hawks' "Only Angels Have Wings" are both must owns and probably already grace the shelves of film collectors everywhere. However, there are a couple of releases from TCM that have not gained as much attention as they should. From 1956, "The Iron Petticoat" is certainly not of the same quality as the aforementioned titles, but it's a great, silly, fun Bob Hope and Katherine Hepburn comedy. It reminds me of a movie that the classic film channel would play around six in the morning. Missed by mostly everyone, but the ones that are awake that early find a cute little gem. For fans of classic comedy, it's definitely worth a look.

4. LAST EMBRACE (1979) Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics

With the Kino Lorber sale currently raging on over at Amazon, now is a good time to stock up on all the wonderful releases from Kino Lorber's Studio Classics line. Prices are extremely low for these films and it's a great time to check out some of the titles you may not have heard of or were unsure about. Jonathan Demme's 1979 attempt at an Alfred Hitchcock thriller is a film I was completely unaware of until this release and it's a really fun flick starring Roy Scheider. As usual, unfortunately, with these KL studio classics discs, it's essentially bare bones featuring a trailer and an interview with the producer, Michael Taylor. However, do not let that discourage you from checking out this stellar thriller from the director of "Silence of the Lambs."

Friday, July 31, 2015


If you know anything about the disaster that is 1996's The Island of Dr. Moreau, you know that it was plagued by difficult actors with massive egos who wanted to make script changes daily and produced one of the worst movies ever, made for $40 million dollars and grossing $49 million, and ultimately lost money for the company.  This vague description of the debacle barely scratches the surface of bad luck, misfortune, and all around craziness that occurred on the making of the film.  The smallest man in the world punches an actor in the groin on an elevator, Fairuza Balk attempts to ESCAPE the doomed production, the Austraillian extras party for weeks while getting paid and not shooting, and famously, the original director, Richard Stanley, after being banished from set and threatened with a lawsuit if he shows up within so many feet of the set, sneaks back into the production wearing a beast mask and makes it on screen.  Again, this BARELY scratches the surface.  This is a must-see documentary for anyone who has ever been interested in how movies are made, and how easily and quickly things can go terribly, and hilariously wrong.  Director Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) is the main character here, and a character he most certainly is.  He's eccentric, but incredibly lovable and speaks with great passion about the novel.

Severin's Special 3-Disc 'House of Pain' Edition is a treasure trove of great extras, beginning with over 72 minutes of outtake interviews with Richard Stanley, Marco Hofschneider, Jim Sbarsellati, Graham Walker, Graham Humphreys, and Hugh and Ollie.  There is also a six minute archival interview with John Frankenheimer, the director who took over the project when Richard Stanley was fired.  Finally, there is a short audio interview with actress Barbara Steele.

Next up is a short featurette of concept art with accompanying audio commentary by Richard Stanley.

The disc wraps up with two great featurettes.  The first, "The Hunt for the Compound," where a crew revisits the sets and shooting locations, now grown over, in the jungle of Cairns.  Secondly, "Boar Man Diary," where an extra reads excerpts from his diary that he wrote while on set.  Really funny featurette, and my favorite of the set, even though it is relatively short.

The second disc is a DVD format entitled "The HG Wells Files."  A gem of this set is housed here, and it seems to have flown well under the radar.  It is a recently discovered, feature length 1921 silent, German adaption of the Wells novel, titled "Island of the Lost."  The picture quality is not amazing by any means, but looks fairly good considering what the elements must have looked like.

Next is a short featurette called "HG Wells on Film" that chronicles Wells' novels that have been adapted into films.  The second disc finishes up with "Richard Stanley on HG Wells," which is more outtakes of Stanley speaking lovingly of the author.

The third and final disc is an audio CD of the audio book, "The Island of Dr. Moreau," read by Richard Stanley, who has a great voice for an audio book.

For further supplements, I highly recommend episode 98 of the podcast Killer POV, where the gang talks with Stanley and Severin Films' David Gregory.

This is a must have for anyone interested in the making of movies, especially big budgeted Hollywood ones that go horribly wrong.  If you liked Jodorowsky's Dune, you will equally love this.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

THE FISHER KING (1991) Blu-Ray from Criterion Collection

I once thought that Terry Gilliam's Brazil was the director's one and only masterpiece. I also had a soft spot for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and considered it one of my top five favorite films of all time. I considered Gilliam's 1991 major studio made, American, made from someone else's script The Fisher King to be "minor Gilliam." I was so, so wrong and offer my apologies to the film gods and goddesses. THE FISHER KING is a masterpiece. Tragic, heartbreaking, hilarious, gorgeous, masterful. Sometimes it is incredibly important to revisit the films you once wrote off as minor, because they might change your outlook. Jeff Bridges plays an egotistical, misanthropic shock jock who inadvertantly inspires a disturbed, unhinged individual to go on a killing spree. The tragic event results in a scandal for Jack (Bridges), the over-the-top radio personality. A series of events leads Jack into the world of the homeless population of Manhattan and into the arms of Parry, a homeless man on the search for the Holy Grail. The two men are linked in a very tragic way, and Jack begins down a road of redemption by helping Parry find love and the holy grail. I'm finding my words are not even beginning to due the magic of this film justice, so I'll stop here and just urge everyone to go out and pick up the Criterion Collection blu ray of The Fisher King.

Like all Criterion Collection releases, The Fisher King is chock full of supplemental goodies, starting with a commentary from 1991 with Terry Gilliam. It's very rarely silent and often specific to what's happening on screen. It's an incredibly tight and on point commentary and very entertaining to listen to. Top notch commentary.

Next up are six deleted scenes, each with optional commentary by Gilliam. Interesting to watch, but clear why they were cut from the final product.

Two of the best supplements on the disc are the two documentaries (totaling over 90 minutes) concerned with the making of the film.

The Tale of the Red Knight, a 22 minute documentary chronicles the difficulties in creating Terry Gilliam's vision of the red knight in the film.

There is a fantastic 2006 interview with Robin Williams about his experiences on the film, costume tests, and Jeff Bridges interviews and on-set footage.

This disc is a MUST BUY. I won't say anything further, just GET IT. It must be on your shelf.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES (1969) Blu-Ray from Arrow Video / WOMAN OF STRAW (1964) Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics

A quick two-fer today from the 1960s. First up, Robert Hossein's 1969 spaghetti western, Cemetery Without Crosses OR The Rope and the Colt:

Robert Hossein is probably most well known for his role in Jules Dassin's crime thriller masterpiece, Rififi, but he also directed a handful of films. Director Hossein (who also stars in the picture) dedicated his film, Cemetery Without Crosses, to famed spaghetti western master Sergio Leonne. Piggybacking off the success of Leonne's Dollars trilogy, and adding another entry to the Italian western canon, Hossein's film, despite incorporating many of the tropes associated with the genre, manages to rise above the more mediocre efforts of his contemporaries. Kicking off with a fantastic theme song (check!) sung by Scott Walker, the first 15 minutes or so is largely without dialogue. A man is lynched by a terrible gang of bandits in front of his wife (check!). The man's wife, played wonderfully by Michele Mercier, travels to a desolate, almost post-apocalyptic ghost town and recruits a lone wolf gunslinger (check, check, check!) to seek revenge (check!) against the gang that murdered her husband. The gunslinger, played by director Robert Hossein, reluctantly joins this woman in her quest for vengeance. The film portrays an almost hopeless series of events, showing that the cycle of violence and revenge never ends (AND check!).

One of Arrow Video's more bare releases, there are still a couple of interesting items in the special features category.

First, a brand new interview with director and star Robert Hossein, entitled "Remembering Sergio." The disc also includes an archived interview with the director.

Aside from the original theatrical trailer, the final supplement is a short segment from a French news show reporting on the making of the film. There's some cool behind the scenes stuff here.

The full color booklet features two essays, the first by Ginette Vincendeau, and the second, written by Rob Young, focusing on singer/songwriter Scott Walker, the man who sings the extremely catchy theme song for Cemetery Without Crosses.

Finally, I'd like to point out the stellar new cover art by Sean Phillips. Phillips has done cover artwork for the Criterion Collection (Blast of Silence, 12 Angry Men, Sweet Smell of Success, and the upcoming Breaker Morant) and reportedly is involved in two upcoming Arrow releases (can't wait to see those!). He is also most well known for his work in comic books, including Criminal, Sleeper, Fatale, and is currently working with Ed Brubaker on the incredible Hollywood noir, The Fade Out.

Next up, a short thought on Kino Lorber Studio Classics' Woman of Straw from 1964.

I'm worried that this particular release may have slipped under the radar and gone mostly unseen by my fellow lovers of movies and collectors of home video. I was first exposed to British director Basil Dearden with Criterion Collection's side arm of DVD-only releases, the Eclipse Series. The "Basil Dearden's London Underground" set houses four incredible films from this largely underrated director. Ever since renting The League of Gentlemen (1960) on a whim, I've been eager and hungry to hunt down and see as much of this director's work as possible. 1964's Woman of Straw is only the second film from Dearden to make it's way to glorious high definition courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Woman of Straw, while not being Dearden's best (to my eyes, that distinction belongs to the aforementioned The League of Gentlemen), is still a solid thriller. A ruthless, old, racist millionaire hires a new Italian nurse and falls in love with her. The millionaire's nephew, played by Sean Connery, is eager to get his hands on his uncles fortunes and seduces the young, beautiful nurse and convinces her to accept his uncles advances in the hopes that the old man will die and leave his millions to them.

Unfortunately, the Kino Lorber Studio Classics tend to be free of supplements. Not even a subtitle track. But, it's all about the film, isn't it folks?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Most Anticipated Blu-Ray Releases (Announced, rumored and speculated)

As any collector of physical media of any kind knows, no matter how much amazing stuff is released on a weekly basis, we will always be hollering for X movie/album/show to be released on our preferred format NOW. And when it is, we'll plunk it on the shelf, without removing the plastic, and there it will sit for weeks, months, sometimes years, and we'll start screaming for the next one. The following is a list of my most anticipated future blu-ray releases, they've all been announced, rumored, or speculated on in some form or another and I want them NOW and maybe I'll get around to watching them in a few months.

- THE KID (1921) from the Criterion Collection
Ever since I saw the Criterion Collection DVD of The Gold Rush a few years ago, I have been bent on getting my hands on any and all Charlie Chaplin fim I can get my hands on. The CC have periodically been putting out Chaplin releases ever since, at the rate of about one a year. All evidence (an Instagram post of the original camera negative) points to this being the next Chaplin release. The earlier career Chaplin films tend to be my favorites, and this should be no exception. I've never seen it and I can't wait to.

- HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (1976) / GRIZZLY (1976) / Numerous Others from Scorpion Releasing
These two films in particular have been teased at and talked about for some time. It seemed as though the wait was nearly over, but unfortunately the company has parted ways with their authoring house after a few snafus and a rude encounter with the authoring house, and it appears these, and many other of Scorpion titles will be delayed. I read about this unfortunate event from Walt himself, over at the forum. This is a huge bummer, and not because we have to wait a little longer for new releases, but because Walter seems like such a nice and genuine guy and is always upfront and engaged with his fans on forums. I highly suggest doing what you can to pick up some Scorpion titles you've been holding off on and showing as much support for this wonderful company as you can. 

- SUSPIRIA (1977) / PHENOMENA (1985) from Synapse Films
Suspiria is the film that opened my eyes to many things. First of all, it's the first horror movie I saw that I considered to be artistic, rather than just blood and guts and scares. It changed my perception of horror from then on. Secondly, it opened the door to world cinema for me. It was the first movie I saw from another country, and it led to my seeking out anything I could find that came from Italy. As bad as I want this release in my hands, I'm glad to know that it's being worked on by Synapse films and that they are taking their time to deliver the best possible product they can. This movie deserves it, and it couldn't be in better hands. Concerning Phenomena, it's the last major Dario Argento film I haven't seen. I also have a thing for bugs in horror movies. Still no official announcement on release date, though presumably it will be in 2016.

- MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH (1976) from Synapse Films
I know absolutely nothing about this movie, but it looks great. And Synapse does great work. So I'll be getting it.

- THE GATE (1987) from ???
Okay, so there has been no official word on this from any company, but I have to imagine it's coming at some point. As a kid, I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street far too early and was unable to watch horror movies without being traumatized and nightmare ridden for weeks. However, I was able to watch this fun little Canadian gem over and over again. I have not seen it since I was about ten or twelve years old, but I am eager to revisit it and I MUST have it on my shelf. Please, someone. Put this on blu!

- THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988) from Scream Factory
One of the most exciting announcements from Scream Factory in the past year. Classic, weird Wes Craven film about voodoo. The release was planned for August, but according to the Scream Factory Facebook, unforeseen circumstances have delayed the release until the end of the year, or possibly early 2016. Scream Factory takes plenty of crap from the loud, demanding online public, and they take it well. I hate to see these kinds of delays from such an amazing company (and they ARE an amazing company), not because I have to wait months for a release, but because I know it means that they will have to deal with illogical, rude criticism from the dark corners of the internet. Any time a company delays a project like this, it's not to annoy the fans, it's to ensure that they release the best possible product they can. Take your time.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

CANNIBAL FEROX (1981) Blu-Ray from Grindhouse Releasing

The blu-ray comes packaged in a standard, clear two-disc case housed in a beautiful cardboard slipcover. Also included, is the film's score on CD in a cardboard case. There's also a full-color booklet with two essays from Bill Landis and Eli Roth.

Also well known as "Make Them Die Slowly," Cannibal Ferox follows a group of young Americans, determined to prove that the act of cannibalism is just a myth, into the jungle, where they bump into a couple of fellow Americans on the run from a very real cannibal tribe out for revenge. It's revealed that the sadistic Mike (played by Giovanni Lombardo Radice, no stranger to cannibal films or the films of director Umberto Lenzi) has used the natives to help him mine for jewels. When they come up short, Mike tortures and abuses the members of this small tribe. Naturally, the natives get fed up with this cruel treatment and the violent revenge and cannibalism begins.

Directed by Umberto Lenzi, who almost ten years prior jumpstarted the cannibal cycle of Italian horror films with Man from Deep River, churns out one of the last films of this particular cycle. At times, it's just as horrendous and vile as the Deodato film (Cannibal Holocaust, perhaps the most well known of this genre), but does not possess the sense of realism that makes that film so effective and visceral. It mostly seems like shock for shock's sake, which I guess can be said for all the cannibal films of this period.

The main event on the special features end is the eighty-five minute documentary, "Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film." The documentary takes a look at all of the highlights of the cannibal subgenre and features onscreen interviews with Umberto Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato, Sergio Martino, and a number of actors from the various films, as well as academics, authors, and experts of the genre. A highlight of the documentary is actress Me Me Lai, who starred in a few of these films. She has a few great stories to tell from the sets and locations of these films.

Also included is a feature commentary with director Umberto Lenzi and actor Giovanni Lombardo Rabice. It can be difficult to understand Lenzi's accent at times, but Rabice is a joy to listen to. "What can I say about this movie...I hated it!"

Next up are a couple of short deleted scenes. The disc also offers the ability to play the film with these scenes added back in.

Rounding out the first disc of this amazing set are a number of trailers and a five minute featurette of the "Hollywood Premiere." This is a neat little featurette with fan interviews and general shennanigans surrounding a screening of the film in 1997.

The second blu ray disc of the set houses numerous previews for upcoming Grindhouse Releasing titles, still galleries, credits, and a section simply titled "Interviews." There is tons of good stuff in this section.

First, a 19 minute interview with director Umberto Lenzi.

Second, a fantastic 50 minute interview with actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice (Mike, in Cannibal Ferox) entitled "The Many Lives and Deaths of Gionvanni Lombardo Radice." Not only does the actor discuss his role in Cannibal Ferox, he talks about his experiences on many films throughout his career.

Next, a 25 minute interview with actress Zora Nerova (Pat in Cannibal Ferox) about her experiences on the film.

Next up is "Danilo Mattei's Amazon Adventure," a 20 minute interview with the actor.

Perhaps the most fascinating interview on the disc is "They Call Him Bombadore" with special effects master Gino De Rossi.

Finishing up the disc is a short interview with Lenzi from 1998.

This set is a MUST BUY for all genre fans. The feature length documentary on Italian cannibal films is worth the price alone. Grindhouse Releasing does an amazing job with all of their releases, and this one is no exception. Even if you're not a big fan of the cannibal films (personally, I am not), it's still a must have for your collection.