Blu-Ray Review- Lake Placid
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: July 8th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 82 Minutes
The creature feature subgenre of Horror has always fascinated and terrified me, specifically, the aquatic monsters featured in movies like Creature from the Black Lagoon, Jaws, Piranha, and many more. The thought of being attacked from beneath, unable to scream, run, or even hear your attacker coming, gives me nightmares. I feel safe and secure swimming at the lake that surrounds my family cabin, but to this day, I’m more than a little edgy going into the ocean. In 1999, television writer David E. Kelly and Director Steve Miner teamed up to release Lake Placid, which works as both a modern day take on creature feature concept and a witty homage to B-movie cinema.
In the film, Paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) is reluctantly sent to Black Lake, Maine to assist in the investigation of a Fish and Game officer who was bitten in half by an unseen creature from beneath the water. Once there, she joins local Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson) and Fish and Game Officer Jack Wells (Bill Pullman). They’re an odd crew to say the least, and tempers flare even more when egotistical Professor of Mythology Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt) joins the search for the mysterious creature.
After a series of lethal encounters, including an overturned canoe, a severed toe, and the decapitation death of one of their crew, the team discovers that the creature they’re dealing with is a prehistoric 30-foot crocodile. And as it turns out, foul-mouthed lake resident Delores Bickerman (Betty White) knows more than she initially let on about this killer croc’s origins and feeding habits. As the bodies pile up, the team has to find a way to capture or kill this ancient behemoth to assure that the local community can be safe once more.
As always, I hesitate to say too much more about the plot of Lake Placid and let you enjoy this fun film for yourselves. Believe it or not, the main draw of the film (and repeat watch factor) is the witty and creative dialogue from screenwriter David E. Kelly. The dialogue is consistently fresh and playful, and the humor is very dark and fitting. Lake Placid plays more like a tribute or homage to the B-movie creature features of yesteryear than a straight horror film, but offers plenty of unique kills and bloodshed for those that require it. The characters are extremely well written, and in turn, creatively played by the cast involved, which is something unique for a film of this genre. I really enjoyed revisiting Lake Placid after all these years, and it’s the perfect summer entertainment for horror fans.
Fans of Lake Placid can rest assured that the film looks great in High Definition. Some of Scream Factory’s abundant admirers seemed worried that this transfer might be plagued with some of the picture quality issues that their most recent license from Fox (Ravenous) displayed. There is no reason for concern here, and point of fact, this is a strong video presentation. Film grain looks natural and authentic, and textures and fine object detail in clothing, crocodile scales, and the surrounding woods of the lake is very clear. Colors are also accurately reproduced here, with the golden-hued and forest green color scheme really coming to life. There are no signs of digital noise reduction, and the print is relatively free of artifacts or scratches, making for a fantastic video presentation.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track featured here represents the film well on Blu-Ray. Dialogue, music, and sound effects are all equally balanced across your home entertainment system in a surprisingly dynamic presentation. From the larger scale action scenes (crocodile chomps, boat motors, helicopter blades) to the films quieter moments (birds chirping, crickets on the lake), this audio presentation is respectful to the source and enhances this fun B-movie for home viewing.
Scream Factory has given fans of Lake Placid the deluxe treatment on this brand new Blu-Ray edition. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- The Making of Lake Placid– This brand new HD documentary runs over thirty minutes and features interviews with the likes of Actor Bill Pullman, Director Steve Miner, Editor Marshall Harvey, Cinematographer Daryn Okada, and many more. The cast and crew discuss David Kelly’s witty script, the blend of animatronics and CGI used to bring the crocodile to life, the enormous water tank used in production, Betty White’s time on the set, and other fun details from filming. I especially enjoyed the story that Nick Marra (effects supervisor) told about the grizzly bear being scared of the animatronic crocodile. This is another standout job from Scream Factory and crew.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer is presented in standard definition and runs just under two minutes. This is a classic 90’s preview, with the “smoky” tone voiceover and recycled climactic music from Aliens, and offered theatrical audiences a good taste of the humor and mayhem from the film.
- Featurette- This featurette includes what appears to be carried over interview footage from the previous Fox DVD release that has been edited together with film footage from the new high definition transfer. It runs a little over five minutes, and is presented in standard definition.
- TV Spots- Roughly a minute and a half of television promos for Lake Placid that ran during the original theatrical campaign for the film. Like the aforementioned trailer, these little clips help establish the fun and campy nature of the film.
- Croc Test Footage- This is over seven minutes of camcorder footage (no audio) from the filming during the summer of 1998. Just a few test shots from the animatronic designers to make sure the mouth, nostrils, and eyes were working on the crocodile.
- Behind the Scenes Gallery- Over five minutes of fun behind-the-scenes photos and production stills from the making of the film. I especially enjoyed seeing the various camera rigs and mechanical elements used to make the crocodile come to life.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory includes newly commissioned artwork from artist Robert O’Brien. I love the postcard style utilized here, and really appreciate the minimalist approach that really evokes terror. It’s clean, simple, and uncluttered. On the reverse of the slipcover you’ll find a plot synopsis, production stills, a list of special features, and the technical specifications for this release. On the inside of the packaging, you’ll find the Blu-Ray disc with some nice artwork, and a reversible slip-sheet featuring the original theatrical poster design for the film. Very well done!
If you’re like me, and “creature feature” horror is your thing, you’ll get a kick out of Lake Placid. This self-aware B movie homage is well written, funny, and offers up more than a few “light” scares. It’s a shame that most of the subgenre films today are relegated to television films, because Lake Placid demonstrates how you can make a fun, campy, big-budget creature feature that is a hit with audiences and (most) critics alike. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features an outstanding video presentation with authentic film grain and natural colors, and an audio presentation with a surprisingly dynamic range. Special Features are top notch as well here, especially the brand new documentary made for this release. All in all, this might just be my favorite release from Scream Factory’s “Summer of Fear” thus far. Lake Placid comes Highly Recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Joy Ride 3: Road Kill
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Street Date: June 17th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 96 Minutes
I actually enjoyed the first Joy Ride film when it was released. Sure, it was a knockoff of Duel, but the script from J.J. Abrams was fresh and fun, the performances were earnest for the genre, and the thrills were genuine. The direct-to-video sequel served as nothing more than shot-on-the-cheap cash-in entertainment, and unfortunately, Joy Ride 3: Road Kill is more of the same.
In the opening moments of the film, a crack-addicted couple devises a plan to rob a random trucker of their imagined “stash” by having the female invite them over via CB radio. When the trucker shows up, of course, it’s none other than Rusty Nail. In one of the few thrilling sequences in the film, Rusty chains the couple to the hood of his semi, informing them that all they have to do is survive one mile of his driving, and not only will he let them go, but he’ll reward them with some of his “stash.” It’s a shame that this intense scene ends so unbelievably that viewers will be left shaking their head.
The story picks up with a group of young street-racers and their girlfriends embarking on a cross-country road trip to the Road Rally 1000. On their way they encounter Rusty Nail and his sinister semi, challenging him to some high-speed hijinks, not knowing whom they’re dealing with. As is typical with the genre, our maniac trucker hunts the crew down, providing for plenty of gore and mayhem. The main bulk of the plot centers on the lead getting his kidnapped girlfriend back from the clutches of Rusty Nail.
I will fully admit that die-hard fans of the series will enjoy this film’s genuine practical gore effects, cheesy one-liners from Rusty Nail, and well choreographed “kill” scenes. Between a semi-fan dicing up a face, chains squeezing someone to death, and multiple vehicular related accidents, there is plenty to cringe at. But this just isn’t my type of Horror film at the end of the day. The script is severely lacking, and even though the genre doesn’t command a David Mamet type treatment for the film, the dialogue could have used some polishing. Ken Kirzinger does a fine job playing the villain here, and we get to see more of the character than we did in previous outings. Though Joy Ride 3 will likely please the fan-base, for me, it seemed repetitive and unoriginal in its execution.
Though I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the film itself, there is no denying that 20th Century Fox has provided a stellar transfer of Joy Ride 3. Black levels are deep and inky, the golden-hued color scheme remains intact and consistent, and fine object detail is near perfect, providing for a great visual experience in High Definition.
The engineers at 20th Century Fox have provided a fantastic 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track for Joy Ride 3. The car chases, stunts, engine growls, blood splatter, and dialogue all come through with pristine clarity on this HD track. If you’re a fan of the series, you won’t be disappointed here, as this disc will give your channels a workout.
20th Century Fox has given fans of the Joy Ride series some fun bonus features for this Blu-Ray release! Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Riding Shotgun with Declan: Director’s Die-aries– Running over nine minutes, this featurette comes in four parts, each documenting a day in the production of Joy Ride 3. The crew clearly had a lot of fun making the film, and we get to see storyboards, makeup effects, and action sequences being setup for the film.
- Jewel’s Message- Running just over a minute, this is Jewel’s videotaped message from the film. I’m baffled as to why it is presented as a special feature here.
- Road Rage: The Blood, Sweat and Gears of Joy Ride 3– This one runs nearly twelve minutes and details the making of the film. The Director states that he wanted to make a hybrid between the previous Joyride films and The Fast and the Furious series. I enjoyed seeing Ken Kirzinger discuss his role as Rusty Nail this time around, as well as how many fans sought him out on the set as fans of his Jason Voorhees portrayal in that franchise. There are some fun makeup effects sequences, and it’s fun to see some practical effects utilized during the production of this film.
- Deleted Scenes- Almost six minutes of deleted scenes, all presented in High Definition with final score and background music. There’s a scene at a gas station, characters changing a tire, and two police officers discussing the events. All of these scenes were indeed, better left on the cutting room floor.
- Pre-Vis Sequences- Declan O’Brien discusses a pre-visualization sequence featuring a car chase from the film, having been inspired by Robert Rodriguez’ “Film School” series. Declan purchased various toy trucks and cars to pre-visualize one of the car chases, filmed it, and we get to see it placed side-by-side with the final scenes from the film.
- Finding Large Marge- This is a nearly four minute featurette on how Director Declan O’Brien found Heather Hueging, the actress who played the throwback character of Large Marge from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.
- Commentary by Declan O’Brien- Director O’Brien clearly enjoys the genre, and this commentary is a relatively easy listen. He details the making of certain scenes, editing choices for the final film, and how he paid homage to various films and horror concepts.
- Sneak Peek- This section of the special features provides previews for the following titles from 20th Century Fox: Devil’s Due, Out of the Furnace, In the Name of the King 3: The Last Mission, 3 Days to Kill, Bad Ass 2: Bad Asses, The Bridge: Season 1, and Wilfred Season 3.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from 20th Century Fox features Rusty Nail’s murderous semi-truck, with a smoky skull enhanced over the grill. The reverse of the packaging features a plot synopsis for the film, along with a listing of the special features, and technical specifications. On the inside of the case you’ll find the Blu-Ray and DVD discs featuring artwork similar to the cover design, a digital HD copy code, and an advertisement flyer for more Horror titles from 20th Century Fox. This particular edition is a Limited set with the “Killer Packaging” cardboard insert with alternate artwork for the film. The insert is glued onto the outside plastic wrap, so be careful when you’re opening the set if you don’t want to damage it.
Though I enjoyed the first Joy Ride film for mindless Horror entertainment, the subsequent direct-to-video sequels have been the epitome of shot-on-the-cheap cash-in cinema. Joy Ride 3: Road Kill features more of the same, though it does showcase some unique “kills” and practical gore effects. The good news is that 20th Century Fox has done a wonderful job transferring the film to Blu-Ray, with picture quality that retains the gritty golden-hued intentions of the filmmakers. The audio track is equally as impressive here, especially with the dynamic range on display during the car chase sequences. Special Features are loaded, but are mostly short, unnecessary featurettes that act as filler for the disc. This is rental material for me, only recommended for die-hard fans of the series.
Blu-Ray Review- The Final Terror
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: July 1st 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 82 Minutes
I like to imagine Director Andrew Davis pitching The Final Terror to studio executives like Johnny Depp did in Ed Wood…
Mr. Davis: “Alright, here we go…Bump…in the Night! The Campsite…Massacre! The Creeper! The Forest…Primeval!”
Studio Exec: “How about The Final Terror?”
Mr. Davis: It’s perfect!
All joking aside, the above titles were, at one point or another, all working titles for what would eventually become The Final Terror. As Horror fans, we’re fortunate this film even saw the light of day. Luckily enough, some of the stars from the film began to make it big in Hollywood, and it was finally released in 1983 after sitting on the shelf for two years.
In the Final Terror, the young men of the Redwood County Youth Corps join some lovely local ladies (including a young Daryl Hannah) for a weekend camping adventure in the Redwood forest. On a side note, Daryl Hannah apparently felt the need to bring her Bavarian Yodeling uniform. Not that I’m not complaining, she looks incredible! The campers clear out a lakeside ravine and tell scary stories by the campfire, when the easily agitated Eggar (an unrecognizable Joe Pantoliano) leaves the group. During the first night, a camper goes missing, and the two lead counselors are brutally murdered by an unseen killer disguised in camouflage.
As the bodies pile up, the remaining campers suspect the unstable Eggar, whom they believe is hiding in a shack in the woods. After finding a working raft, the campers make their way down the river to escape the woodland killer and notify the authorities. This turns out to be harder than they imagined, as the killer stalks their every move, forcing the campers to set a trap for a final showdown.
The Final Terror is a curious Horror film, reminding one much more of First Blood than Sleepaway Camp. The kills compared to other films of the genre are relatively weak and uninspired, and the story truly moves along at a snails pace. It’s not a total loss by any means, as it provides some fun camp value, and features earnest performances from the cast. I’m glad to have seen it, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure it’s one that I would revisit again.
You have to give it to Scream Factory, who truly went above and beyond for this release. Before the film itself even plays, a title card gives notice that all of the original film elements for The Final Terror were lost, and that Scream Factory utilized six different prints from private film collectors to complete the transfer for this Blu-Ray release. So before I even get into my thoughts on the transfer herein, hats off to this company for putting in the extra effort!
Given the title card and advance warning from Scream Factory, I was surprised to find that The Final Terror looks better than I had imagined it would. If there’s a main fault, it’s the consistency in each reel, as colors and skin tones can fluctuate in a single moment. There is the expected damage to the print, with scratches and artifacts popping up fairly regularly, but that’s to be expected. Believe it or not, there are actually some fine aspects to this release, such as the inky black levels, and fine object detail in facial features, the forest environment, and clothing. While it won’t knock the socks off of most High Definition enthusiasts, it’s impressive that Scream Factory was able to piece this film together after all original film elements were lost.
This 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio track works well enough for this genre title, but definitely sounds “tinny” and hollow. The catchy musical score for the film features some deep bass and guitar that resonates well, but dialogue and sound effects are often unbalanced and can get lost in the mix. Similar to any minor gripes with the video, this is likely the best this movie is ever going to sound on home video, so we have to give credit where credit is due.
Scream Factory has given fans of The Final Terror some outstanding bonus features for this Blu-Ray release! Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Post Terror: Finishing The Final Terror- Running nearly twenty-three minutes in length, this documentary piece from Shout! Factory and Aine Lecht is endlessly engaging, even if I didn’t appreciate the film itself as much as others seem to. We get the opportunity to hear from Post Production supervisor Allan Holzman as he discusses the complex editing of the film, and Composter Susan Justin talking about the score she created for this low budget thriller. I especially enjoyed hearing Holzman discuss Joe Pantoliano’s great performance in the film.
- The First Terror with Adrian Zmed and Lewis Smith- Running over sixteen minutes, this fun featurette has Adrian Zmed (Marco) and Lewis Smith (Boone) discussing their roles in the film, how they got their roles, stories from the shoot, and much more. With such a low budget film, the actors talk about how they had to perform many of their own stunts, which was especially fun to listen to. Adrian even mentions the bizarre opening prologue deaths that are unrelated to the rest of the film. Great stuff!
- Theatrical Trailer- Running over two minutes, this original theatrical trailer for the film is cleverly edited together, and the corny voice-over makes it that much better!
- Behind the Scenes Still Gallery- This bonus segment includes roughly nine minutes of behind the scenes photos and production stills, many of which have never been seen before this Blu-Ray.
- Commentary with Director Andrew Davis- Probably my favorite special feature on this release is the wonderful commentary from Director Andrew Davis. He provides a lot of insight into this low budget production, and some funny stories from the shoot.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for the cover art. I love the design, which almost makes it look like a Science Fiction film. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, list of special features, technical specifications, and production stills. Inside the case itself are the Blu-Ray and DVD discs, which both feature art that mimics the cover design. Behind the discs, Scream Factory has included some nice production photos on the reverse of the slip-sheet.
More First Blood than Sleepaway Camp, The Final Terror features some earnest performances and camp value for fans of the genre, but features weak kills and a story that moves at a snails pace. Though I’m glad to have finally seen it, I’m not sure it’s a film I would revisit again. With that being said, hats off to Scream Factory for bringing The Final Terror to Blu-Ray, and painstakingly re-assembling the film after the original elements were lost. The picture and audio quality won’t impress many, but most of you will be glad to have the film available in your collections at long last. Even though I wasn’t crazy about the film itself, this Blu-Ray edition includes some fun and worthwhile special features, and it’s very evident that Scream Factory put in the extra effort for fans. Recommended.
DVD Review- True Detective: The Complete First Season
Distributor: HBO Home Entertainment
Street Date: June 10th 2014
Technical Specifications: 480P, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround
Runtime: 458 Minutes
I’ve been watching HBO’s excellent programming since I was a teenager, back in the good old days of Tales from the Crypt and Dream On. In High School, the network introduced me to The Sopranos, The Wire, and Six Feet Under, all of which I still consider among my favorite television programs of all time. In college, it was all about Deadwood, and even though it was incredibly short lived, it’s a series that I’ve revisited multiple times on home video. And right now, we have several great shows airing on the pay network, including Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire. Unlike the aforementioned shows, I wasn’t immediately drawn into the trailers and television promos building up to the premiere of True Detective. In fact, my wife and I casually sat down on the living room couch a few months back, unaware that the premiere was about to begin as we turned on the television, and decided to give it a chance. From the opening moments, we were hooked.
True Detective follows the seventeen-year long investigation into a gruesome murder from the perspectives of Detectives Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey). In the beginning, it’s 1995, and the mismatched partners from Louisiana’s Criminal Investigation Division (C.I.D.) are assigned to solve the ritualistic murder of Dora Lange, a young woman whose killer has left her naked and bound to the roots of a tree, deer antlers affixed to her skull, with strange homemade artifacts left behind. Marty is the faithful believer, married with children, but with problems he doesn’t want to confront. Rust is the existential atheist with nowhere to call home, obsessed with the murders and motives behind the crimes he is tasked to solve. True Detective features a non-linear narrative, frequently jumping back and forth between the present (2012) where Marty and Rust are interviewed separately about the Dora Lange investigation, and the past where the investigation leads them down increasingly dark and sinister paths.
The worst thing that a reviewer can do is spoil a show that has so many surprises to offer, so I’ll leave my synopsis at that. True Detective features career-best performances from both Harrelson and McConaughey, who utilize their distinct abilities (and the incredible screenplay) to believably bring their characters to life. These are hardened men, who have seen things that many people will fortunately never have to experience. They’re also flawed human beings, who each have something they can learn from one another.
It’s commendable and impressive how much style and suspense True Detective offers up in only eight hour-long episodes. The cast is superb, the music is unnerving and beautifully composed to each sequence, and the story itself is consistently captivating. Rarely in a television series do we get a finale that is so utterly perfect as well, completely tying up any loose ends and character arcs. I am thrilled that HBO has decided to continue this series, with each new season featuring a new case and detectives to follow. Though the 8-episode first season could have stood all on it’s own as a memorable miniseries, I look forward to seeing what’s in store for future seasons. True Detective receives my absolute highest recommendation.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get my hands on a Blu-Ray edition to review, but this DVD set looks surprisingly good for an “inferior” format. True Detective is a show that features a very stark and gritty visual appearance, and the solid black levels and subdued color scheme look fantastic here on DVD. Definition isn’t quite as clear and precise as it would be on Blu-Ray, but overall this is a fine looking release. Judging from screenshots I’ve seen for the High Definition edition, that is obviously the preferred format to own.
Again, the DVD edition lacks the DTS-HD Master Audio track of the Blu-Ray, so while this does sound plenty powerful and dynamic for a DVD release, it will always sound better in High Definition. Dialogue does come through very clear, and background music and action is well balanced.
HBO Home Entertainment has provided fans of True Detective with a somewhat generic, but enjoyable set of special features to accompany the show. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Making True Detective– Running over fifteen minutes, this is a decent, if somewhat standard, making-of featurette from HBO. Like most “making-of” segments from the network, this reveals a bit too much about the show, it’s central mystery, and it’s character arcs, so if you’ve never seen the show, avoid this until you experience it in it’s entirety. With that being said, this is a nice overview of the series and you get to hear from the central cast and crew including Nic Pizzolatto, Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan, and many more.
- Inside the Episode- This portion of the special features offers two separate featurettes on specific episodes including After You’ve Gone and Form and Void. You can choose to watch them separately or “play all.” Both segments run 4-5 minutes each, and offer a short inside look at the meaning behind the episodes, especially some of the more existential questions viewers may have about the characters and the mystery at hand.
- Deleted Scenes- I’m not even sure you could call these deleted scenes to be frank. Running nearly four minutes long, this is a series of scenery shots of various locations from the series: a burning field, Louisiana swamplands, roadways, graveyards, all set against some unnerving music. There is not a single set of dialogue throughout the entire sequence. It’s almost as if random pieces of cinematography from the entire series (those in-between moments of Marty & Rust driving through the country) were assembled together here in one long sequence.
- Up Close with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson- Though short, this is probably my favorite special feature on this release, with introspective interviews with both stars on four different scenes from the series including: the dinner scene, the fight scene, the bar scene, and fatigue. It’s a heck of a lot of fun to hear Harrelson and McConaughey discuss their characters’ reasoning and choices in the select scenes. The two stars discussing their fight scene from the series is especially fun and hilarious, and it’s obvious they enjoyed working together. You can choose to watch these separately or simply “play all.” The entirety lasts about eight minutes.
- A Conversation with Nic Pizzolatto and T-Bone Burnett- Running slightly over fourteen minutes, this is a video discussion between Musician T-Bone Burnett and Series Producer and writer Nic Pizzolatto. If you enjoyed the fantastic and moody music from the show, you’ll really get a kick out of hearing from Mr. Burnett. He obviously studied not only the script itself but also the music and social scene in Louisiana. Great stuff!
- Audio Commentary (2)- Nic Pizzolatto, T Bone Burnett, and Scott Stephens provide commentary on two select episodes.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this DVD release from HBO Home Entertainment features some fantastic artwork that mimics the poster campaign during broadcast, and captures so much style in subtle fashion. This is a hard shell slipcase, with the special features and series synopsis on the reverse of the packaging. Inside you’ll find a fold-out digipack with individual episode listings, some nice background art, and three DVD discs.
True Detective is a stylish thriller series featuring career-best performances from Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. The writing is superb and believable, the cinematography gritty and gorgeous, and the brilliant musical score just adds to the effect. I love the journey that both detectives take throughout their investigation and the aftermath, and this features one of the best final episodes of any show in recent memory. I’m excited to see what the creators have in store for subsequent seasons, which will each feature different actors and storylines. The DVD edition features solid picture and audio quality, but the Blu-Ray edition is the one to pick up for video and audiophiles alike. The special features left me wanting more, especially for a show with so much to offer. With that being said, this is simply one of the better television shows of the past decade, and is a must own on either format. True Detective comes Highly Recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Ravenous
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: June 3rd 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 101 Minutes
Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce) receives a hero’s welcome from the United States Army after capturing the enemy’s outpost during the Mexican-American war. The truth of the matter is literally making Boyd sick to his stomach, as he “played dead” like a coward while his fellow soldiers died, conjured up strength from drinking the blood of the pile of dead comrades above him, and took the fort. When the truth of his cowardice is revealed, Boyd is banished by his superiors to Fort Spencer in California.
Upon arrival, the boozing bookworm Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones) introduces Boyd to the unique cast of characters he is to share the foreseeable future with: the cocky Private Reich (Neal McDonough), the goofball Private Cleaves (David Arquette), the faithful shepherd Private Toffler (Jeremy Davies), and their Native American caretakers George and Martha (Joseph Runningfox and Sheila Tousey). Boyd seems hesitant to make any new friends, and lay low until the war subsides. But his hopes of forgetting his past wrongdoings and moving on with his new assignment will be short lived.
A seemingly distraught and near-death stranger by the name of Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) arrives to Fort Spencer, with a grim tale of his wagon party, led by the mad Colonel Ives, resorting to cannibalism after being stranded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for some time. When Boyd and his fellow soldiers are lead on an expedition to investigate the story, Colqhoun’s true identity is revealed as the blood thirsty Colonel Ives. Boyd manages to escape the ensuing massacre that follows, but when he arrives back at Fort Spencer to tell his story, Ives has already assumed command of Fort Spencer, and Boyd’s wild story falls on deaf ears.
What follows from this point on I don’t dare reveal, as I implore you to watch Ravenous for yourself. This is a unique brand of Horror story, not only in its historical setting and unique brand of humor amongst the gore, but with an array of strong and sincere performances from a stellar cast. The action is exciting, and the twists and turns cleverly written. Ravenous is one of those oddball films that didn’t get the attention it deserved upon release. Luckily, it has developed a strong cult following over the years, one that I wish you, dear reader, fall in line with.
While the picture quality is not the total disaster that it’s being made out to be in other early reviews you may have seen, there is definitely a lack of definition here, and various problematic aspects to the source. The print provided by 20th Century Fox features a lack of definition in facial features, scenery, clothing, and other detail that fares only slightly better than DVD quality. The bottom line is that some scenes look better than others, and the lack of overall clarity is more evident in darker, dimly lit scenes than the bright daylight cinematography sequences or the candle/fire-lit interiors of Fort Spencer. Though it’s hard to pinpoint the main source of error that occurred here, it is obvious that some sort of digital scrubbing was utilized prior to Scream Factory’s disc pressing. Though I love the film dearly, this transfer is not up to par.
The good news is that the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track gets the job done. Dialogue and background music and effects are well balanced, and while the various channels are never put to full force use, it’s dynamic and spacious enough to warrant a recommendation. Damon Albarn’s score in particular sounds amazing here, a true treat to experience in HD sound.
Scream Factory has included some fun special features for their release of Ravenous on Blu-Ray. Features range from newly created specifically for this release to ported content from the previous DVD edition. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Interview with Jeffrey Jones: The Ravenous Tales of Colonel Hart- Running over twenty minutes, this fascinating interview with actor Jeffrey Jones is one of the brand new special features created for this Blu-Ray release. The man not only offers some insight into the making of the film, but he truly knows his American history as well. Sharing his knowledge about everything from the westward expansion to early American settlements, and the Mexican-American war to Native American wendigo legends, Jones is clearly an actor who doesn’t just show up on set with his lines memorized, but researches and becomes his role. For me, this is definitely the standout feature on this set.
- Deleted Scenes- Roughly twelve minutes of deleted scenes from the film, ported over from the DVD release. Having never been mastered at the same quality as the final cut, these scenes are in rough shape and presented in standard definition. The audio is also very hard to hear for the most part, again I’m guessing, a product of not being “finalized” for inclusion in the eventual film. With most deleted scenes I come across, it’s obvious why they were left on the cutting room floor, but for Ravenous, I actually really enjoyed each of these moments, and would love to someday see an “extended” edition with the scenes reincorporated. I’m glad Scream Factory decided to include these for their Blu-Ray edition, which fans of the film will enjoy revisiting.
- Deleted Scenes with Commentary– The aforementioned deleted scenes are included here again, but this time with running commentary from the Director of the film, the witty and talented Antonia Bird, who sadly passed away just last year. Antonia explains the various reasons why each scene was left on the cutting room floor, as well as explains her reasoning for the scripted scenes’ individual purpose in the original script.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film is presented in standard definition, running exactly two minutes long. It’s not surprising that the film didn’t fare very well at the box office with this misleading promo, but then again, a film featuring cannibalism set during the Mexican-American war is already a tough sell for a studio.
- TV Spot- The rather short 32 second TV spot for the film features select scenes from the above trailer with a different voiceover.
- Photo Gallery (Costume Design & Production Design)- This photo gallery provides a look at the unique costume and production design for the film, providing drawings and storyboards along with text explanations for select items from the film. This is also presented in standard definition, but I’m glad it was carried over.
- Audio Commentaries (3)- Scream Factory has also included three separate audio commentaries for this Blu-Ray release. The first features Director Antonia Bird and composer/songwriter Damon Albarn (of Blur and Gorillaz fame). The second commentary features screenwriter Ted Griffin and Jeffrey Jones, and the third features Robert Carlyle. All three segments provide for an interesting listen, with each set of associated folks offering their own take on the making of the film, its significance, and the history behind it.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory features the original theatrical artwork for the film with Pearce, Carlyle, and Arquette among some skulls and bones. The reverse of the packaging includes a plot synopsis and a special features listing, with a few select promotional stills from the film. Inside you’ll find reversible artwork and some nice disc art. Well done!
Ravenous is a film that I have revisited several times since its initial release, finding something new to appreciate each time. It’s a unique brand of Horror story with a wicked sense of humor, fun performances from a talented cast, and a brilliant score. This brand new Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features a disappointing transfer of the film, a legitimate complaint in an otherwise great release. The audio is perfect, and the special features are fascinating if you’re a fan of the film. It was especially engaging to hear the talented and informative Jeffrey Jones discuss his thoughts on the making of the movie.
Blu-Ray Review- Countess Dracula
Distributor: Synapse Films
Street Date: May 6th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, Color, 1.66:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
In 1971, Hammer Films took a chance on producing Countess Dracula, their fictional take on the very real story of Elizabeth Bathory (Elizabeth Nadasdy in the film), who is often referred to as the most prolific female serial killer in history. Born into a noble Hungarian family, the real Elizabeth was said to use her power and deception to lure innocent villagers into the castle, torture them for days, and eventually kill and dispose of their bodies. Depending on what story you read, the number of Bathory’s victims range anywhere from 30-600 women, as a precise number was never established. What is more than likely the truth of the matter is that the legends of Elizabeth Bathory (such as bathing in her victims blood to stay young) far outweigh the facts. It makes for a fascinating Horror story, a fact that Hammer Films knew well enough to produce Countess Dracula, a different kind of macabre tale for them after many repetitive outings featuring Frankenstein, The Mummy, and the Count himself.
Countess Dracula begins with the funeral of Count Nadasdy, who has left little fortune to his wife Elizabeth (Ingrid Pitt) in his will. She is a crude, hateful old woman, who punishes her handmaidens for the slightest perceived misdeed. The funeral has also brought Lieutenant Imre Toth (Sandor Eles) to the family castle, a young friend of the late Count who Elizabeth is instantly taken with. After discovering the youthful effect that young blood has on her appearance, Elizabeth kills a female servant, bathes in her blood, and becomes youthful and beautiful once more. Conspiring with her faithful steward Dobi (Nigel Green), she hides her newly arrived daughter Llona away, fooling everyone into thinking that she is in fact, her own daughter. Elizabeth’s youthful appearance aids her in seducing Lieutenant Toth, but at a price, as more victims have to be sacrificed for Elizabeth to maintain this façade, and the castle historian begins to suspect something sinister is brewing.
Revisiting Countess Dracula was an absolute treat. Ingrid Pitt is as breathtaking as ever, turning in one of her best performances. The gothic production design, polished cinematography, elegant costumes, and eerie music by Harry Robertson (incorrectly credited in the opening credits as Harry Robinson) just adds to the pleasure. This remains one of my personal favorite stand-alone films in the Hammer catalog.
The Blu-Ray presentation for Countess Dracula is about as impressive as it gets. It’s obvious that a lot of time and care went into making sure this High Definition release would impress Horror fans and Blu-Ray aficionados alike. Colors look accurate, scenery looks crisp and gorgeous, the wonderful costume design shows incredible detail and clarity, and the blood…the blood looks crimson red! The film grain has been kept intact and authentic throughout the restoration process, which is always appreciated! There is some slight damage to the print here and there, but these moments are few and far between, save for the occasional speckles. The lengths that Synapse has gone to in order to preserve this film is commendable, and it looks fantastic in High Definition.
The DTS-HD Mono track provided here is surprisingly powerful: regularly balancing dialogue, background sound effects, and Harry Robertson’s eerie score. It’s a bit jolting at first to hear so much power and balance from two channels. This is another standout area on this release.
Synapse Films has provided Horror fans with plenty of great special features to enjoy on this disc. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary- This commentary features actress Ingrid Pitt, Director Peter Sasdy, Screenwriter Jeremy Paul, and Author Jonathan Sothcott discussing nearly all aspects of production on Countess Dracula. Continuously engaging and fun, this is one of the more enjoyable commentaries I’ve experienced in some time.
- Countess Dracula Still Gallery- Roughly seven minutes of fantastic behind-the-scenes photos and production stills set to the brilliant piano score from the film. There are some really captivating pictures provided here, showcasing the elaborate costume and production design for the film.
- Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt– Running nearly eleven minutes, this featurette is extremely well made and showcases the career of the gorgeous and talented Ingrid Pitt. Several film scholars and noteworthy people contribute to telling her life story in brief, from the unimaginable horror she must have experienced spending the first few years of her life in a concentration camp, to her beginning acting career in film. I knew very little about Ingrid going into this, and came out knowing (and wanting to further research) so much more. It’s fascinating that she escaped Berlin by swimming across the river, being pulled out by a United States soldier, whom she would later marry. The featurette further discusses her roles in Where Eagles Dare, The Vampire Lovers, and finally, Countess Dracula. This is absolutely my favorite special feature on the set.
- Archival Audio Interview with Ingrid Pitt- Over eight minutes worth of audio featuring an interview with Ingrid Pitt. The audio is in rough shape, and a little hard to hear at times, but there are some interesting topics discussed including violence in film, her beginnings in Hollywood, and her Horror film roles.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for Countess Dracula is a lot of fun, with a great rhyming voiceover, gothic Hammer title cards, and like most older trailers, showcases a bit too much of the final film.
Synapse has crafted a beautiful looking release for Countess Dracula with artwork featuring the original theatrical poster for the film, with the “Hammer Horror Collection” banner at the top. The reverse features a plot synopsis for the film, a list of special features, and technical specifications. Inside you will find some beautiful (and naughty) reversible artwork as well as the Blu-Ray and DVD discs for the film.
Revisiting Countess Dracula was an absolute treat. Ingrid Pitt is as breathtaking as ever, turning in one of her best performances. The gothic production design, polished cinematography, elegant costumes, and eerie music by Harry Robertson just adds to the pleasure. Synapse Films has gone to great lengths to provide viewers with a beautiful restored print, surprisingly great sound quality, and a wealth of bonus material. The Immortal Countess featurette is a particular treat, providing viewers with a look at Ingrid Pitt’s beautiful life and legacy. This Blu-Ray release receives my Highest Recommendation.