Blu-Ray Review- Sleepaway Camp
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: May 27th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 85 Minutes
Ah…the Summer Camp slasher films of the 1980’s. From Friday the 13th to The Burning, there are an abundance of fun movies in this subgenre that have become yearly staples for a Horror fans’ summer viewing experience. It’s an odd cocktail of entertainment we’re talking about here: a blended concoction of the innocence of youth, being away from the watchful eyes of our parents, and an evil stranger hacking our peers to death. Sleepaway Camp is a bizarre but extremely memorable entry, standing alone in a class of films that often feature repetitive villains, deaths, and characters. I will never forget seeing it for the first time during a sleepover as a teenager, my jaw literally hanging open in shock during the ending moments, as goose bumps tingled up my spine and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Though for some it may be a chore to get there, once you’ve been, it’s a film that you will revisit time and time again and appreciate anew with each subsequent viewing.
Eight years after a terrible boating accident kills her Father and brother, Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) now lives with her whack-a-doodle Aunt Martha and her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tierston). Sent off to Camp Arawak for the summer, the shy and withdrawn Angela quickly experiences bullying and torment from her peers, and Ricky is always there to defend her. Though a dash of romance could be in the cards for Angela when fellow camper Paul takes a liking to her, the atmosphere at Camp Arawak has grown increasingly eerie as campers begin to turn up dead. But who could be the killer? Could it be the snotty and flirtatious Judy? Perhaps even the shy and withdrawn Angela? Or even a cousin who is fed up with her sister’s tormentors? Half the fun of Sleepaway Camp is the journey in answering that very question, and the resulting answer will not only shock you, but it will remain engrained in your memory long after viewing.
Benefitting from its naïve charm and creepy atmosphere, Sleepaway Camp remains one of the better slasher films from the era. Sure, it features some wooden and hammy performances, some incredibly creepy characters (the cook), and cheesy dialogue that will have you howling at parts, but it’s about the whole package. As I stated before, it is a film that Horror fans will revisit time and time again and appreciate the corny performances (Aunt Martha is a standout), the fun kills and makeup effects, and the rather genius ending that will haunt your dreams.
Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray release of Sleepaway Camp is, simply put, stunning. Featuring a transfer from a 2K scan of the original camera negative, this company has gone above and beyond to treat fans of the film with a beautiful viewing experience. Film grain is intact here and authentic to the time period, with no digital scrubbing to be seen. Colors look better than ever, with the lush green lawns of the camp and clear blue water of the lake in full view. But the standout aspect of this presentation is the fine detail; from hair to clothing, the textures look incredible. There is some minor damage to the print from time to time, but this is to be expected from a film this old. For Horror fans and Blu-Ray aficionados, this is as good as it gets, and I can guarantee that you have never seen Sleepaway Camp look this incredible.
The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track provided here suits the film very well. All of the dialogue comes through clean and clear, background noise at the camp (birds chirping, water splashing, crickets chirping) sound great and never “tinny”, and escalating swells in the score are handled nicely. I was surprised how dynamic this seemed for a mono track. Fans will be pleased with its authenticity and power.
Scream Factory has once again gone above and beyond to include some amazing special features for fans of the film. Though I do question the inclusion of a couple of them, the majority of these features are fantastic. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- At the Waterfront after the Social: The Legacy of Sleepaway Camp– Running over 45 minutes, this documentary from Scream Factory and Justin Beahm’s Reverend Entertainment is the standout feature on a release already jam-packed with gems. We not only get the opportunity to hear from cast members such as Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tierston, Karen Fields, and more, but the amount of depth and detail the cast and crew go into regarding the development of the film is incredible. From how the cast members won over their director during auditions to the screenwriting and filming process and on-set crushes, there is truly something for everyone here. The behind-the-scenes discussion and special effects that went into a particular scene from the ending, is especially hilarious and engaging. The entertainment factor aside, Justin Beahm and Scream Factory have delivered the goods to the Horror fan-base with a top quality documentary filmed in high definition with great title logos and animations. The final shot of Felissa becoming emotional discussing the impact of the film is especially sincere and moving. Excellent work.
- Judy: A Short film by Jeff Hayes- Judy is an incredibly silly low budget short film from Jeff Hayes, the webmaster at sleepawaycampmovies.com. Featuring Karen Fields reprising her role from Sleepaway Camp, the ridiculous plot has Judy exacting revenge on a flirtatious married man. It’s fun seeing Karen bring back her Judy-tude, but the majority of this is mostly cringe worthy. Sorry Jeff!
- Princess: A Music Video by Jonathan Tierston- Actually titled The Princess, this music video from Jonathan Tierston is not related to the film in the slightest. Though it features some nice camerawork, it’s five minutes worth of b-i-z-a-r-r-o lyrics and awkward lip-syncing with Jonathan promoting his music career. This wasn’t for me, and I’ll leave it at that.
- Camp Arawak Scrapbook- Over nine minutes worth of behind-the-scenes pictures from the cast and crew. Everyone involved clearly had fun making the movie, and it’s nice that these were preserved over the years and included on this release for fans of the film.
- Theatrical Trailer & TV Spots- The original theatrical trailer and two television spots are included back-to-back. You have to appreciate the campy voiceover and out-of-context footage used to promote the film. I could watch 80’s Horror previews all day long, so this was a short and sweet treat.
- Rare Images from Make-up effects artist Ed French- Roughly a minute and a half worth of rare storyboard drawings for the makeup and effects shots featured in the film. Though it’s a short montage, there are some fascinating pictures here from Ed French’s archive, and the final effects they achieved are impressive for a low budget horror film.
- A Demonstration of the 2K film scan process- Ian Turpen at Technicolor runs us through the impressive 2K scanning process that Sleepaway Camp underwent for this Blu-Ray release. Running exactly nine minutes long, this segment reminded me of some of the restoration featurettes that the Criterion Collection and Arrow Video have included on their releases before. Though it’s a welcome addition to this release and we get some interesting technical information on the scanners themselves, we never get to see a “before and after” shot of the print. It’s even more confusing that the footage from the film that is included in this segment is all in standard definition. I would recommend the half-screen comparison shot next time interspersed with footage from the Technicolor labs. That slight criticism aside, as mentioned above, the transfer on this release is simply stunning and I’m so glad that Scream Factory went the extra mile to deliver a 2K scan for the Blu-Ray release.
- Audio Commentaries (3)- Scream Factory was kind enough to include three audio commentaries on this release. The first features actors Felissa Rose and Jonathan Tierston, the second Director Robert Hiltzik (moderated by Jeff Hayes), and the third features both Hiltzik and Rose. Felissa and Jonathan’s commentary is especially fun and the two obviously enjoyed their experience working together all those years ago, and seem appreciative of the enormous cult fan-base their movie has now.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory features newly commissioned artwork on the slipcover from fan favorite artist, Nathan Thomas Milliner. There is little doubt that Milliner captured the spirit of the film with his atmospheric and brutal art for this release. For nostalgic purists, Scream Factory has also included the original theatrical artwork as a reversible case slip with the classic “knife through the tennis shoe” design. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis along with the aforementioned special features listed. The interior of the case includes some nice disc art to boot.
Sleepaway Camp remains a bizarre and shocking entry in the summer camp sub-genre of 80’s slasher films, and one of my personal favorites. Scream Factory has gone above and beyond to provide an absolutely gorgeous 2K scan of the original camera negative, a surprisingly dynamic and authentic HD mono audio track, and a wealth of bonus material to peruse for fans. Special marks have to be given for the beyond entertaining At the Waterfront after the Social: The Legacy of Sleepaway Camp from Justin Beahm, which will go down as one of the definitive bonus feature documentaries of 2014. Highly Recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Evilspeak
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: May 13th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 92 Minutes
Eric Weston’s Evilspeak begins in the 1600’s with a group of Satanists being banished from their land. They wander the beaches, gathering followers as they travel. Their leader performs a ritual sacrifice, beheading a young woman who was drawn to their pack. Fast forward to 1981, and we meet poor, poor Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard). Stanley is an outcast at West Andover Military Academy, and the frequent punching bag of his fellow students. He’s the classic oddball that you can’t help but feel for, not only in his looks but his poor sports performance, awkward demeanor, and jumbled speech.
When the West Andover faculty punishes Stanley by putting him on clean up duty at the Academy’s chapel, he discovers the hidden crypt of Father Esteban, one of the 16th Century Satanists featured in the prologue. Among the creepy relics left behind is a book used in black mass rituals, which Stanley has no qualms about taking for his own. Utilizing his downtime and computer savvy, Stanley creates a program to translate the text from the ancient book.
Increasingly disillusioned with life at the Academy and the never ending bullying he experiences, Stanley warms up to the ancient writings and concocts a plan for revenge: synchronize his computer program with the evil entity to create a computerized black mass, and get rid of his tormentors for good.
What follows features some outstanding gore effects for the time, from satanic pigs ripping people to shreds (you heard that right), stigmata nails flying through skulls, and wickedly awful beheadings, there’s plenty of mayhem to both cringe and cheer for. Clint Howard’s performance is also worth mentioning, as he turns in a very genuine performance here. Evilspeak has just about everything a Horror fan would want out of a genre film, and I had a great time revisiting it in High Definition.
Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray release of Evilspeak has been licensed through Code Red, and features a transfer that has been “completely restored from a newly discovered 35mm inter-positive source.” While the film without a doubt looks better than it ever has before, complete with natural film grain and a nice color grading, it could have used a little bit of clean up work before release. There are plenty of scratches, pops, and even light damage throughout the entire runtime. It’s a delicate issue of course, especially when some transfers are overly manipulated to appear “brand new.” For some, those instances of scratches and debris might add up to some nostalgia factor. It’s the kind of experience that reminds you of watching a grindhouse film in a dirty second-rate cinema in the 80’s, and on that note, you may be forgiving. For others, despite featuring a great inter-positive source, it might be slightly distracting. I’m in the forgiving/nostalgia factor camp, especially because I’m just plain happy to have this rather niche Horror film available on Blu-Ray.
This DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track provided here won’t rumble the floors or wake the neighbors, but it gets the job done. Dialogue comes through very clear, and is well balanced between the creepy musical score and background effects. It can sound slightly “tinny” at times, but overall fans of the film will be pleased with the audio experience.
Scream Factory has included some truly awesome special features on this Blu-Ray edition, in fact it could have been labeled a Collector’s Edition frankly, featuring some truly great content for fans of the film. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Satan’s Pigs and Severed Heads: The Making of Evilspeak- Running nearly 28 minutes, this is another fantastic documentary from Scream Factory. We get to hear from most of the principal cast discussing every aspect of the film’s production. From how the cast members got their respective roles to discussing how genuinely nice Clint Howard was, and from the stunt sequences to the special gore effects, all of the bases are covered here. This is brand new interview footage filmed in High Definition, with footage from the film dispersed throughout, and it works really well. Richard Moll is especially hilarious, and has some fun stories to reminisce about. Definitely one of Scream Factory’s better documentaries!
- Effects Speak with Allan A. Apone- This segment runs nearly 15 minutes and features Allan A. Apone discussing his career creating gore effects for movies. It’s fascinating hearing Allan speak about making the practical effects cost efficient yet stylish, and improvising plenty of times on the set to get the right results. From learning about the practical effects involved in everything from beheadings to pigs eating people, this is great stuff!
- Cast Interviews- This section of the bonus features includes three separate interviews with Clint Howard, Don Stark, and Joseph Cortese. The interviews are really fun, detailing how each of these actors got involved with the production. The standout is absolutely hearing from Clint Howard. The quality isn’t quite as polished as the other featurettes on this Blu-Ray, as the film footage looks like it’s been taken from a VHS tape, and the interviews seem to be taken from a standard definition source.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer runs about 2 minutes long and is quite fun. Definitely evokes that 80’s feel with its corny voice-over and reveal of roughly the entire plot. Definitely glad it was included in this package.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory features the outstanding original theatrical artwork for the film on the cover. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis along with the aforementioned special features listed. The interior of the case includes some nice disc art and foreign posters for the film on the reverse of the slip-sheet.
Evilspeak is a terrific Horror movie with a dedicated performance from Clint Howard, amazing practical gore effects, and an ever-captivating plotline that plays like a hybrid between Carrie, The Lords of Discipline, and The Exorcist. The Blu-Ray from Scream Factory features a transfer that will divide enthusiasts for the format. It’s impressive in it’s authenticity but features some light damage throughout. The audio track works just fine here, and Scream Factory has loaded this with worthwhile special features. The documentary alone is worth a purchase! Recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Final Exam
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: May 13th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 94 Minutes
“Some may pass the test…God help the rest.”
How could a filmmaker break away from the conventional slasher movies of the early 1980’s? If they took time to establish the characters, composed a simple yet unnerving score, and featured quality camera work, it might be possible. Jimmy Huston’s 1981 film Final Exam did exactly that, and while it’s not a superb Horror movie by any means, it’s certainly an underrated entry in the genre.
Following the rather typical opening involving the bloodless slashing of a couple parked lakeside for a midnight rendezvous, we proceed to Lanier College. It’s the end of the trimester, and students and staff are anxious to be through with final exams and eager to party, pack-up, and head home. We’re introduced to a stereotypical cast of characters: the jock “Wildman”, the macabre-obsessed nerd Radish, the naïve yet book-smart Courtney, the promiscuous Lisa, sleazy professors, and more.
Things start to look grim for our college friends when the knife-wielding killer from the nearby March college murders begins to pick them off, one by one. It doesn’t help that local police are hesitant to respond to distress calls after the Gamma Fraternity’s latest prank.
It’s easy to see how a film like Final Exam could have been lost in the shuffle of 80’s slasher films, only to recently be rediscovered and appreciated by a new generation of fans. The plot isn’t all that original, the characters (at a glance) are stereotypical, and it features yet another faceless maniac with mysterious motives. The difference here is absolutely in the execution, and Final Exam captured my attention from start to finish. The cast puts quite a bit of effort into making their characters believable, and for a genre film, the script isn’t half bad. Also worth noting is the impressive camera angles and cinematography, which again, is against the norm for the genre and period. An extended tracking shot through a dorm hallway, blood spraying on painted canvases, and the first person perspective of an automated dishwashing machine are just a few of the unique filmmaking examples within.
Those looking for a gore-fest may be slightly disappointed, as the majority of the kills feature little to no blood. But the nostalgia factor is huge here: from the early 80’s cheek-high gym shorts on DeAnna Robbins to the elaborately coiffed hair on the men, just add a dose of Horror into the mix, and you have yourself a highly entertaining concoction for a rainy Saturday night.
Working from a brand High Definition print taken from the original camera negative (courtesy of Code Red), Scream Factory has unleashed Final Exam onto Blu-Ray with a respectable transfer. While I got a little worried during the opening credits, which features a lot of scratches and spots, things clean up pretty quickly after that. The college campus features lush green lawns, character clothing and interior sets are well detailed and defined, and fine object detail is surprisingly clear, considering the age and film stock utilized. There are a few quick moments of light print damage throughout, but for the most part, there is a nice balance to the overall image, and the entire feature is devoid of any intrusive digital noise reduction or edge enhancement. This is clearly the best Final Exam has ever looked on home video.
The DTS-HD audio herein sounds authentic to the time period and budget of a film like this, and frankly, I was surprised by the dynamic power of this mono track. The creepy score by Gary Scott will be stuck in your head for days after viewing, and it sounds great here. Dialogue comes through very clean and clear, with the peak “kill” musical ascension working well enough to make me jump more than a few times. Background noise is appropriately balanced, such as birds chirping on campus during the daytime scenes, or papers and pencils shuffling in class. This is another area of strength on this release.
Scream Factory and Code Red have teamed up to provide a few worthwhile bonus features here, in fact, it’s more than enough to satisfy the niche audience that a film like this attracts. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary: The included commentary features some fun insight into the making of the film from actors Joel Rice, Cecile Bagdadi, and Sherry Willis-Burch. Though they do seem to talk over each other quite a bit, it’s an engaging commentary and the featured cast seems to have a fun time reminiscing about their past efforts, as well as what they’ve been up to lately.
- Interviews: Featuring a static camera angle of the individual actors on a couch, these aren’t the usual polished and well-edited interviews we’ve come to expect from Scream Factory’s previous releases, but it’s less about the production and more about the fun content. We get recently filmed interviews from cast members Joel Rice (Radish), Cecile Bagdadi (Courtney), and Sherry Willis-Burch (Janet). The questions posed to the actors are presented as simple white type against a black backdrop, with the filmed responses thereafter. Joel Rice is especially fun to listen to here, with some fun memories to share from the making of the movie. It would have been fun to see if anyone could have tracked down DeAnna Robbins, as she seems to have disappeared from the acting world in the late 1980’s.
- Theatrical Trailer: Running about a minute and a half, this original trailer is in very rough shape, but it’s still fun to have it included on the release.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory comes with a stylish cover art design featuring the original theatrical poster for the film: the killer’s silhouette cast against the Lanier college campus backdrop on a full moon night. It definitely captures the mood of the film. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a synopsis for the film, the aforementioned special features listed, and a few technical specifications. On the inside you’ll find some nice disc art that mirrors the cover art, and a bloody background design. Well done!
What Final Exam lacks in originality, it makes up for with a fun script, eerie score, dedicated genre performances, and unique cinematography. The Blu-Ray from Scream Factory retains authentic film grain and accurate color reproduction, but features frequent light damage throughout. The good news is that for the Horror genre, those minor issues often just add to the nostalgia factor. The audio track delivers the dialogue and chills appropriately, and there are some fun special features included as well. I had a great time with Final Exam, and it’s the perfect 80’s slasher for a stormy spring night. Recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Gamera: Ultimate Collection Volume 1 & 2
Distributor: Mill Creek Entertainment
Street Date: April 29th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio, B&W/Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, English Subtitles
Runtime: Volume 1- 5 Hours, 45 Minutes, Volume 2- 5 Hours, 43 Minutes
“Guardian of the Universe. Friend of all children!”
Originally conceived as a rival to Toho’s Godzilla franchise, Daiei Studios’ beloved Gamera series quickly became a hit across Japan with the 1965 release of Gamera: The Giant Monster. Starting out in a similar fashion to the aforementioned Toho films, Gamera began as an ancient turtle unfrozen by an atomic bomb, terrorizing Japan with his size and indestructability, but quickly became the family favorite “friend to all children” in later films. Unlike the Big G’s awkward transition to kid friendly entertainment, Gamera seemed a much more suitable monster for children’s fascination. He was a giant fire-breathing turtle with teeth, a shell that could repel rockets, and the ability to fly into outer space. He protected Earth from alien Kaiju villains, and watched over the children of Japan, who rooted for him from the sidelines. The Showa era films were produced and distributed by Daiei Studios until their bankruptcy in 1974, until a parent company took over and assisted with one last Gamera release in 1980 (thus the large gap in releases during the 1970’s). Here’s my quick plot breakdown and thoughts for each film included in these two wonderful collections:
- Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965)- A soviet bomb awakens Gamera from his icy slumber, and he quickly makes his way to Japan to cause destruction of epic proportions. Much like the original Godzilla film, the Military intervenes to come up with a plan to get rid of this giant nuisance for good. The first film in the franchise is the only one filmed in black and white, and features Gamera as a villain. I enjoy the original, but it’s no match for the later, cornier, family friendly entries featuring Gamera as a friendly protector of Japan and it’s children. It’s actually a bit funny to say that, since I usually prefer the darker tone of Kaiju films, but the later Gamera films are too much fun to forget.
- Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966)- As a comet collides with the rocket that trapped Gamera and sent him into space, a thief steals a precious stone from an island in Japan. Turns out the stone is actually an egg, and after accidentally leaving it under a light for some time, Barugon is born and begins terrorizing Japan. Gamera falls from space and the ensuing fights begin! While still not quite the “friend to all children” of later films, Gamera’s intentions do seem to be protecting Japan from Barugon in this entry, and he’s less hell-bent on unnecessary destruction. There are some fun battles between the creatures in this one, and plenty of destruction in Daiei’s first color film in the series.
- Gamera Vs. Gyaos (1967)- This is the beginning of Gamera’s clear intentions of protecting the cities and children of Japan, and one of my favorite entries in the Gamera series. Gyaos, resembling a giant pterodactyl, is found in a mysterious mountain cave by a young boy, and Gamera quickly flies into action to save him. The resulting battles here are a lot of fun, and this third entry in the series has a change in tone and atmosphere that marks the beginning of the family friendly switch for Gamera.
- Gamera Vs. Viras (1968)- A seemingly humanoid alien race comes to earth, declaring Gamera as their enemy. They kidnap two young boys, and put a mind control device on Gamera, who cannot help but do their bidding, and begins destroying parts of Japan. Gamera, soon free from their control, sets out to battle the aliens, who have now formed together to create the giant monster Viras. This is another exciting entry in the series, which absolutely has its corny moments, but it’s a lot of fun. The final battle between Gamera and Viras is especially entertaining.
- Gamera Vs. Guiron (1969)- This entry is possibly my favorite in the series, but though it’s seemingly family friendly with it’s plot, beware that there are a few intense scenes within involving Guiron’s blade kills, and the planet Terra’s female alien cannibals (though they are not referred as such). Two young boys are whisked off to outer space after entering a UFO that had landed nearby their homes. Landing on the planet Terra, they discover a female race of aliens with dastardly plans, the giant knife-nosed monster Guiron, and more. Gamera quickly comes to the rescue.
- Gamera Vs. Jiger (1970)- Set during the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, the porcupine-like Jiger soon appears, mysteriously connected to a statue that is in the midst of removal. One of Gamera’s trickiest opponents yet, Jiger is one of the most memorable Kaiju villains from the series. The film itself is a bit too convoluted for the youngsters, but it features some great battle scenes and Gamera in dire circumstances for the first time in awhile.
- Gamera Vs. Zigra (1971)- The last “true” Gamera film from the Showa series, Gamera vs. Zigra is a lot of fun. After a family investigates the crash site of a strange alien ship, they quickly regret their choice as their held hostage by a female Zigran, of the planet Zigra. She uses her advanced technology and power to create earthquakes all across Japan. Gamera swoops into action to save the day, but his fire breath transformers the Zigran spaceship into a massive Kaiju shark. The battle scenes are a lot of fun, and Zigra is a towering opponent for our favorite turtle.
- Gamera: Super Monster (1980)- This is quite the disastrous last film in the Showa Gamera series. Made by Daiei (and their new parent company) after nearly a decade of bankruptcy and leadership turnover, this Gamera film features stock footage from all of the previous entries in the series, edited together with newly shot scenes featuring the alien Zanon. This entry reminded me Godzilla Vs. Megalon’s production, which similarly spliced together stock footage and newly filmed scenes in an incoherent fashion.
Mill Creek Entertainment has done a phenomenal job transferring all eight Gamera films to High Definition. Licensed directly from Kadokawa Pictures, these transfers feature beautiful color reproduction, with a mostly clean and clear image for each film. There are occasional artifacts and anomalies throughout that seem inherent to the source material, but wow, color me impressed! Detail on Gamera and other Kaiju’s is remarkably effective, with an almost tangible scaled and slimy appearance. Flesh tones on our human friends are accurate, and never appear boosted. In fact, the High Definition presentation on all eight films is so good that you can clearly make out the special effects components of the time period, including wires and matte paintings. All of the films appear authentic to the time period and original presentation, with digital noise reduction held at bay, the film grain is left intact to maintain a natural appearance.
The Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital Track included for all eight films suits them well. There is a slight “canned” effect to some moments of dialogue and sound effects, but it all adds to the nostalgic fun of these entries in the 1965-1980 Gamera series. English subtitles are included of course, and occasionally appear and disappear a bit too fast for the dialogue to keep up. I was actually surprised by the dynamic sound in quite a few sequences, especially from a two-channel track. The audio on all eight films is more than suitable, and easily recommended when paired with the beautiful picture quality.
If I have a single solitary area of complaint on these discs, it’s in the bonus features. There is not a single supplement across all eight films and two discs. Not a commentary, vintage featurette, photo gallery, or trailer. I would imagine this is due to the specific licensing agreement that Mill Creek obtained with the rights holders, because there must be some features out there waiting to be unleashed for Gamera fans.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, these Blu-Ray releases from Mill Creek Entertainment come with gorgeous slipcovers that perfectly capture the destructive yet fun mood of the Gamera franchise. With both the English and Japanese titles, a mini-poster for each film with the respective title and release date, and an epic shot of Gamera from the respective Daiei Studios eras, the artwork couldn’t be any more perfect. On the reverse of the case and slipcover you’ll find a brief synopsis for each film, as well as the technical specifications. On the interior of the case is a single Blu-Ray for each 4-film set, with some nice artwork that mimics the front slipcover. Well done!
Often overshadowed by Toho’s Godzilla series, the Gamera films from Daiei Studios are true gems from a bygone era. With a much more family friendly atmosphere than some of the aforementioned Godzilla entries, Gamera remains the true guardian of the universe, and friend to all children. The Blu-Ray releases from Mill Creek Entertainment feature outstanding and authentic video presentations with remarkable color reproduction, intact film grain, and surprising detail and depth in most sequences. The 2.0 Dolby Digital audio presentations are mostly respectable here, with dialogue coming through clear and music and sound surprisingly dynamic. If there were a lone complaint on both of these sets, it would be the lack of special features, which I would assume is due to licensing agreements between the distributor and rights holder. Despite that small complaint, Gamera has never looked better, and is a welcome addition to any Kaiju fans collection. Highly recommended!
DVD Review- Godzilla: The Complete Animated Series
Distributor: Mill Creek Entertainment
Street Date: April 29th 2014
Technical Specifications: 480P Video, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Audio, Color, 1:33:1 Full Frame Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 14 Hours, 14 Minutes
I would venture to say that most Godzilla fans have little respect for Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Americanized Godzilla film. Truth be told, no matter how you feel about it, Emmerich had little to work with and was forced to create a Kaiju that looked nothing like Toho’s classic creature. But the problem didn’t stop there, the movie itself featured some downright horrible acting (from some otherwise talented performers), a concept that felt bloated and borrowed, and paid little to no homage to our favorite mean green fighting machine.
But one thing that fans of both animation and Godzilla do seem to agree on is this: the 1998 animated series that followed was actually quite enjoyable and unique. Picking up directly where the film left off, the animated series features Dr. Nick Tatopoulus (Ian Ziering) and his research team discovering the only remaining hatchling from the Zilla that attacked New York in the film. Unlike its mother, the young offspring befriends Nick and the team to help fend off the increasing number of incoming Kaiju that seem bent on destroying New York City. Another important aspect of the series focuses on Nick and his team convincing both the military and politicians of New York to embrace Zilla Jr. as a friendly weapon, and not a foe.
Unfortunately due to licensing issues between Sony and Toho, the Kaiju that either battle or befriend Godzilla in this series are either original or legendary creatures from mythology (the Loch Ness monster, Quetzalcoatl, etc.). Classic foes from the Toho series such as Gigan, King Ghidorah, and Mothra are nowhere to be found. But with this curse comes a certain blessing, as it’s fun to experience the creativity from the folks behind the series in conjuring up original Kaiju for Zilla to battle.
For an animated show aimed at the late 90’s elementary-age crowd, this is absolutely a fun and lively series. The characters are certainly more developed than the 1998 film, the animation has a classic 90’s-era style, and the plotlines are fairly consistently entertaining. This is also the first time we have been able to see the entire 40-episode series in one complete set, as previous releases have only featured select episodes.
Mill Creek Entertainment has delivered Godzilla: The Series to DVD in a mostly respectable 1:33:1 full frame transfer. The lack of a high definition presentation obviously limits the overall quality, but it wouldn’t be fair for me to judge based solely on that. For a DVD, and an animated series at that, this looks pretty good. Colors are accurate, and artifacts and anomalies are at a minimum. There is a strange white line that occasionally appears at the top of the image area, which I would suspect is the result of the transfer from video elements, but it only rears its head from time to time.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track works well enough to support dialogue, the show’s numerous sound effects, and musical score. It can sound slightly “tinny” at times, but this is likely an accurate representation of the original broadcast audio, probably better in fact.
Godzilla: The Series arrived on DVD completely bare bones. For an animated children’s show that ran only two seasons, I suspect there wasn’t many (if any) special features produced back in 1998. It would have been nice to see a newly produced featurette on the making of the show or even a select-episode commentary from the writers or animators, but again, it’s fairly obvious why money wasn’t spent on a couple of bonus segments aimed at a niche audience.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this DVD release from Mill Creek Entertainment comes with cover art depicting one of the main sequences from the opening intro for the show. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a synopsis for the series, as well as a few review quotes. Inside the case there are four DVD discs, all stacked on top of each other. This style of packaging has been fairly consistent from Mill Creek over the past year, and makes sense monetarily, but this is never good for minimizing scratches on a disc format that is easily marked up.
Godzilla: The Series is a fun children’s show that easily bests the 1998 feature film in character development, Kaiju battles, and plotlines. The DVD release also marks the first time that fans of the show can see all 40 episodes in their entirety. The picture quality here suffices for the format, featuring bright and accurate colors, and the audio seems authentic to the original broadcast. Though I do have a slight complaint regarding the disc stacking, overall this release provides hours of entertainment, and is an essential addition to any Godzilla fans collection.