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Student Bodies Blu-Ray Review

Blu-Ray Review- Student Bodies

Distributor: Olive Films

Street Date: August 25th 2015

Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio

Runtime: 86 Minutes

Student Bodies (Olive Films)

Student Bodies (Olive Films)

The Film:

Michael Ritchie’s Student Bodies may indeed be the very first spoof film parodying the Horror genre. Released in 1981, the filmmakers take stabs at countless slasher movies from the period including Halloween, Friday the 13th, When a Stranger Calls, Carrie, and many more. Similar in style to the Zucker Brothers’ Airplane or Naked Gun series, the gags come in quick succession, with more hits than misses, and if you’re a fan of either the comedy or horror genre, you’re bound to catch yourself smirking at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

In the film, a killer known simply as “the breather” stalks the women of Lamab High School in increasingly hilarious fashion. Sporting green dish gloves and black galoshes and using everything from paper clips to eggplants and chalkboard erasers to kill his victims, the breather terrorizes the teenagers and faculty of the school until Toby Badger (Kristen Riter) decides she’s had enough. Part of the gag here is that nearly everyone in the film (teacher, custodian, and student alike) wears green dish gloves at one point or another, making the list of suspects never ending. There’s also a running on-screen body count, a self-aware killer who’s aware of his downfalls (squeaky galoshes, prone to masturbation), a mid-film MPAA notice, and a custodian with urinary tract problems.

Student Bodies is frequently hilarious, often downright stupid, and sometimes cringe-inducing cheesy. Though still not quite as memorable as other spoof films (see Airplane!, Top Secret, Spaceballs) in the genre, Student Bodies easily enjoyable and offers up more than a few laughs.

Video Quality:

I was shocked that Student Bodies could ever look this good! Olive Films presents the film in beautiful high definition with natural film grain, an authentic color scheme, and plenty of detail and clarity. There are fairly frequent instances of minor debris or light scratches to the print, but none too distracting for the viewer. The level of detail in facial features, clothing, and objects is pretty spectacular for the time period and budget. Student Bodies looks great in HD!

Audio Quality:

The 2.0 DTS-HD audio track gets the job done, excelling in the areas of dialogue and score. It’s a front heavy presentation that sounds fairly tinny at times, but I highly doubt anyone was expecting a Dolby Atmos equivalent here. Everything comes through clean and clear, even if it’s not exactly the most audio experience.

Special Features:

Olive Films has not included any special features on this Blu-Ray release.

The Packaging:

As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Olive Films features the utterly fantastic original theatrical poster for the cover art. Everything from the voluptuous blonde with the cheerleader megaphone shoved down her throat to the vintage school desks and the chalkboard title are just absolutely perfect. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. On the interior of the case you’ll find some hilarious disc art with some snapped lead pencils and the “sex kills” button, as well as the usual Olive Films insert card. I really dig the packaging design on this release!

 

Student Bodies (reverse)

Student Bodies (reverse)

Student Bodies (interior)

Student Bodies (interior)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Report:

Michael Ritchie’s Student Bodies is a spoof similar in style to Airplane! or the Naked Gun series, but is likely the first of its kind to poke fun at the slasher genre. The gags come in quick succession, with more hits than misses, and if you’re a fan of either the comedy or horror genre, you’re bound to catch yourself smirking at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. The Blu-Ray features a shockingly good video presentation and a respectable audio mix, but lacks in the area of special features. The packaging on this release is superb, with the memorable original theatrical poster in addition to some funny disc art to seal the deal. Student Bodies is frequently hilarious, often downright stupid, and sometimes cringe-inducing cheesy, and this Blu-Ray release from Olive Films comes recommended for a good share of laughs.

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre


The People Under the Stairs: Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray Review

Blu-Ray Review- The People Under the Stairs

Distributor: Scream Factory

Street Date: August 11th 2015

Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Runtime: 103 Minutes

The People Under the Stairs: Collector's Edition (Scream Factory)

The People Under the Stairs: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory)

The Film:

“In every neighborhood, there is a house that adults whisper about, and children cross the street to avoid.” –Theatrical tagline for The People Under the Stairs

The People Under the Stairs is not only one of Wes Craven’s very best films; I consider it a modern day Horror classic. Craven’s 1991 feature is a masterfully crafted urban horror story that is also exceptionally well written for the genre. The film offers up plenty of terrifying sequences, sadistically dark comedic moments, and a perfectly cast ensemble that delights in their over-the-top characters. It’s an endlessly re-watchable Horror treat, and fans will be overjoyed with this latest Collector’s Edition release from Scream Factory.

Poindexter “Fool” Williams (Brandon Adams) and his family are the last remaining residents of their rundown apartment complex in Los Angeles. His mother is sick and requires hospital treatment that they’re unable to afford. It certainly doesn’t help their predicament when they receive an eviction notice from their mysterious landlords, the Robesons. When his sister’s boyfriend Leroy (Ving Rhames) tells Fool about the rumored hoard of gold that the Robeson’s have stashed away somewhere in their old creepy house, they concoct a plan to steal it from the greedy old couple. After all, with that amount of gold at his disposal, Fool could certainly afford to pay for his mother’s medical care and save their apartment.

Suffice to say, Fool and Leroy’s attempted robbery goes horribly wrong, trapping Fool in the disturbing house of the utterly psychotic Robeson’s. With no possibility of escape, the deranged “Daddy” and “Momma” Robeson on his trail, and cannibalistic offspring living inside the walls of the house, Fool’s only hope of survival is Alice, the Robeson’s sheltered daughter.

The People Under the Stairs delights at every twisted turn with fantastic makeup and special effects work from KNB EFX, a moody score from Don Peake, and an impressive production design. Twin Peaks’ Everett McGill and Wendy Robie turn in wickedly terrifying performances as the Robesons, and young Brandon Adams is one of the most likeable child actors in Horror movie history. I truly enjoyed revisiting the film on this brand new Collector’s Edition from Scream Factory.

Video Quality:

Scream Factory delivers The People Under the Stairs onto Blu-Ray with the same fantastic transfer that accompanied the previous Universal release. The urban (and suburban) setting exhibits plenty of depth and clarity, with a beautiful color scheme that is respectful to the original theatrical presentation. The level of detail in facial features, clothing, and the terrifying house itself is spectacular. Black levels are solid, and there are no artifacts or damage to the print to report. Fans will be delighted with this clean, crisp, transfer of a modern-day Horror classic.

Audio Quality:

The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track is another standout addition to this Blu-Ray release. Everything from the unsettling score to dialogue and sound effects comes through very clean and clearly in HD surround. There are plenty of scary moments that definitely gave me a “jump” on this mix, and the audio is perfectly captured in tremendous detail across all channels.

Special Features:

Scream Factory has provided fans of The People Under the Stairs with an incredible selection of bonus features for this Blu-Ray release. This is truly a Collector’s Edition folks! Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:

  • Audio Commentaries (2): There are two commentaries to choose from on this Blu-Ray edition including one featuring the Director himself, Wes Craven, and the other featuring Brandon Adams, A.J. Langer, Sean Whalen, and Yan Burg.
  • House Mother with Wendy Robie– This incredible interview from Red Shirt Pictures lasts nearly 20 minutes and features actress Wendy Robie (“Woman”/Mrs. Robeson) discussing how she became involved with The People Under the Stairs, her background in Shakespeare and television roles, how the character of Hannibal Lecter inspired her audition, and the psychological profile she assumed to play the role of “woman.” Wendy discusses working with Wes Craven as well here, and further emphasizes the Director’s noteworthy likeability. My favorite sections of the interview have Wendy sharing stories from the late-night shooting schedule and the cast and crew deliriously cracking up after takes. Once again, this is a wonderful addition from Red Shirt Pictures to this Blu-Ray release.
  • What Lies Beneath: The Effects of The People Under the StairsThis 15 minute featurette from Red Shirt Pictures has KNB EFX pioneers Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, and Greg Nicotero (of The Walking Dead fame) discussing their involvement on The People Under the Stairs special effects work. I always find featurettes on makeup effects fascinating, and this one is no exception! The behind-the-scenes footage combined with the recollections of the KNB folks makes for some truly captivating material. I loved hearing about the development of these fantastic effects; from Ving Rhames’ life cast to Sean Whalen’s unique makeup, there is plenty to salivate over here for Horror fans!
  • House of Horrors: With Director of Photography Sandi Sissel- This is yet another great interview from Red Shirt Pictures, coming in at over 16 minutes and featuring DP Sandi Sissel discussing her work on the film. Sandi’s career, starting out in documentaries and eventually making her way to big budget productions, offers up plenty of great stories.
  • Settling the Score (with Don Peake)– This 10 minute interview with composer Don Peake offers up some insightful stories regarding the score for The People Under the Stairs. Don’s career is discussed in depth, beginning with his musical experience in High School and joining The Everly Brothers in the 1960’s to working in Hollywood. A very interesting guy with plenty of fascinating tales to tell.
  • Behind the Scenes Footage– Nearly 7 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage from Greg Nicotero include the oft-discussed disemboweling scene and makeup preparation for the actors involved.
  • Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just over a minute and is just as enticing for potential viewers as it was back in 1991. The tagline for the film spoken over the terrifying imagery perfectly captures the tone. It’s a short one, but sometimes less is more.
  • TV Spots- Just over a minute of select TV spots from the film’s theatrical campaign.
  • Vintage Making of Featurette- This is actually just under 4 minutes of promotional material for the film partnered with select scenes. I especially enjoyed the black and white “vintage” footage of the actors discussing their roles.
  • Original Storyboards- Just about 7 minutes worth of storyboards for various sequences from the film. You have to appreciate the amount of effort that goes into planning these unique and elaborate shots!
  • Still Gallery- Roughly 4 minutes of behind-the-scenes photos and production stills from the making of The People Under the Stairs.

The Packaging:

As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features what is quite possibly my favorite Scream Factory artwork yet! Justin Osbourne was commissioned to create this piece, which truly captures the atmosphere of the film. The purple color scheme is gorgeous, and the likeness of the actors is absolutely spot-on! On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, a list of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. On the interior of the slipcover is the standard Blu-Ray case, which has reversible artwork featuring the original theatrical poster for the film. The interior of the case features the Blu-Ray disc, also featuring artwork from the theatrical poster. This is absolutely one of my personal favorite packaging jobs from Scream Factory! Bravo.

 

The People Under the Stairs: Collector's Edition (reverse)

The People Under the Stairs: Collector’s Edition (reverse)

The People Under the Stairs: Collector's Edition (interior)

The People Under the Stairs: Collector’s Edition (interior)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Report:

The People Under the Stairs is a modern day Horror classic. The film offers up plenty of terrifying sequences, sadistically dark comedic moments, and a perfectly cast ensemble that delights in their over-the-top characters. It’s an endlessly re-watchable Horror treat, and fans will be overjoyed with this latest Collector’s Edition release from Scream Factory. This Blu-Ray edition features outstanding video and audio quality, and arrives loaded with fascinating special features for Horror fans. Justin Osbourne’s amazing cover art is yet another added bonus to what may be one of Scream Factory’s finest releases to date. Highly recommended!

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre


Ghost Town Blu-Ray Review

Blu-Ray Review- Ghost Town

Distributor: Scream Factory

Street Date: July 28th 2015

Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono

Runtime: 85 Minutes

Ghost Town (Scream Factory)

Ghost Town (Scream Factory)

The Film:

Empire Pictures and Charles Band’s 1988 production of Ghost Town contains too many laugh-out-loud “what the fuck am I watching?” moments to count. When bride-to-be Kate Barrett goes missing in a desert town (honestly…who keeps their wedding dress in the backseat of a top-down convertible in the desert?), the local Sheriff’s Deputy (Franc Luz) Langley is assigned to track her down. A rough sandstorm is the apparent cause, but we (the viewers) know that a ghastly western outlaw apparition on horseback has carried her off.

As Langley begins his search, the same outlaw apparition quickly decimates his vehicle, leaving him stranded and desperate in the scorching desert heat. Our hero stumbles across the barren landscape into an abandoned Old West town in his search to solve the mystery of Kate’s disappearance, but soon finds out, nothing is what it seems. The entire town’s inhabitants are dead, stuck in a limbo of sorts, waiting for the day when a legendary lawman will come to town and rid them of the ghostly outlaw that is keeping their souls hostage. Langley, by chance, just might be the lawman they’re looking for.

Ghost Town is a fairly enjoyable B-movie cheese-fest! The story is unintentionally silly, with less-than-stellar acting ability all around, exaggerated line delivery, and questionable editing choices. If it wasn’t for its lack of repeat-watch value, Ghost Town would almost qualify for the “so bad it’s good” stamp of approval. For those that enjoy bad movies, there is no denying that the film delivers the goods. I will say that the special effects aren’t half bad, with a few select gore shots and makeup details that are impressive given the obvious budget restraints. Do I recommend it? Sure. Ghost Town isn’t a terrible way to waste away a rainy afternoon, and cheesy movie fans will delight in the film’s unintentional comedy.

Video Quality:

Scream Factory has given Ghost Town an incredibly solid transfer onto the Blu-Ray format! It’s almost too good given the film’s B-movie laugh-fest quality (joking of course). The print is very clean, free from defects, and offers up some beautiful natural film grain without any evidence of manipulation. The dusty ghost town exhibits a depth and lifelike quality in High Definition, and facial features and clothing material are captured in stunning clarity. There are a few scattered shots with artifacts, and a handful of scenes that exhibit a “jumpy” quality (likely a stabilization issue from the source), but Ghost Town overall looks fantastic on the format!

Audio Quality:

The 2.0 DTS-HD audio track is another fine aspect to this Blu-Ray release. Dialogue always comes through clean and clear, music and sound effects are rather dynamic for a mono track, and there are no hiccups or other distortions in sound throughout the experience. The cheesy score sounds especially great here!

Special Features:

There are no special features included on this Blu-Ray release for Ghost Town. For many of us, having the film on the High Definition format is a special treat in and of itself. Others may be disappointed with the lack of extras.

The Packaging:

This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover. I love the classic Western “pistols at dawn” pose paired with the menace of the skeleton cowboy. The artistic touches of the town’s buildings fading away and the skeleton’s shadow in the foreground are appreciated. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside of the case is the Blu-Ray disc as well as some nice reversible artwork that fans can choose to display instead of the theatrical poster art.

 

Ghost Town (reverse)

Ghost Town (reverse)

Ghost Town (interior)

Ghost Town (interior)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Report:

Ghost Town is a fairly enjoyable B-movie cheese-fest! The story is unintentionally silly, with less-than-stellar acting ability all around, exaggerated line delivery, and questionable editing choices. If it wasn’t for its lack of repeat-watch value, Ghost Town would almost qualify for the “so bad it’s good” stamp of approval. For those that enjoy bad movies, there is no denying that the film delivers the goods. The Blu-Ray from Scream Factory boasts very impressive video and audio quality, making for an enjoyable home theater experience for Horror fans. The lack of special features may be disappointing for some, but most of us are satisfied enough to finally own a rare treat like this one on the High Definition format. Western Horror films are hard to come by, and though you have to be in the right mood to appreciate its B-movie charms, Ghost Town on Blu-Ray comes recommended.

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre


Madhouse Blu-Ray Review

Blu-Ray Review- Madhouse

Distributor: Kino Lorber

Street Date: July 21st 2015

Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio

Runtime: 89 Minutes

Madhouse (Kino Lorber)

Madhouse (Kino Lorber)

The Film:

Back in 1974, American International Pictures and Amicus Productions put in one last ditch effort to capitalize on the Gothic Horror genre they had so admirably brought to life on the silver screen with Madhouse starring Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. Though I personally adore the film (as many other Price fans do), Madhouse failed to impress at the box office, and AIP subsequently buried the genre. It’s a shame, because the film itself is utterly delightful for Horror fans. Not only because of the powerful onscreen presence of Lee and Cushing, but with standout sets, makeup, and costume design partnered with a unique macabre story that isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at the horror genre and legendary careers of its stars.

In Madhouse, Vincent Price portrays Horror star Paul Toombes, an actor who is celebrating the release of his fifth film in the “Dr. Death” series at his private mansion. Donning a black cape, black fedora, and skeleton-like makeup, his character has terrified audiences on screen for decades. The release party also serves as an engagement announcement for Toombes, who is happy as can be with his beautiful fiancée Ellen at his side. Soon after the couple’s happy news is announced, a sleazy adult film producer informs Paul that Allen used to be in his films. A distraught and angry Paul disappears at the party, while Ellen is murdered by a shadowy figure that looks very similar to “Dr. Death.” The murder goes unsolved, and a heartbroken Paul’s life and career begin to fall apart.

Fast forward to several years later, and Paul is called to London by his best friend Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing) to star in a brand new television series that will bring his character Dr. Death back to life for Horror fans. Production on the show begins, but the shadowy figure that murdered Ellen years prior is back with a vengeance! One by one, those around Paul soon begin to fall victim to a real-life “Dr. Death.”

Regular readers of the site know of my affection for Mr. Vincent Price, and Madhouse happens to be one of my personal favorites of his. The visual look of Dr. Death himself remains very sinister, and famously made for a legendary cover page for Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. The movie itself is very suspenseful, with fantastic performances from everyone involved, but especially memorable is the chemistry between Price and Cushing. The story keeps the viewer guessing throughout, with a myriad of possibilities regarding the killer’s identity. Madhouse is a delightful little Horror treat; a self-aware gothic production that continues to entertain over forty years later. I’m not sure why audiences didn’t flock to see the film back then, but luckily, Madhouse is still fondly remembered enough to garner a solid Blu-Ray release from Kino Lorber.

Video Quality:

Kino Lorber delivers Madhouse onto Blu-Ray with a fine high definition transfer that sports a period authentic color palette, plenty of crisp detail in facial features and clothing, and a generally clean print. There are occasional speckles, light damage, and noise, but those moments are few and far between. Madhouse looks better than it ever has on home video, and I’m very pleased with the results of Kino’s efforts here.

Audio Quality:

Unfortunately this is the one area of Kino’s Blu-Ray release where fans may be disappointed. There is an audio-sync issue that persists throughout the entirety of the film. Lips move before the dialogue audio kicks in, sometimes after, with only a few select scenes that seem to be correctly synced. Video issues can sometimes be easy to overlook, but unfortunately audio sync problems are so noticeable and distracting that fans may feel a little let down. Kino Lorber is aware of the issue and is currently investigating the error. At the time this review is being written, we’re waiting to hear back regarding the results of their investigation (i.e. possible replacement discs). Besides this issue, the audio itself sounds great, with dialogue front and center and plenty of spooky sound effects and score components sounding pristine in HD.

Special Features:

Kino Lorber has given Madhouse a solid selection of bonus features to accompany this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:

  • Audio Commentary – Film Historian David Del Valle discusses the troubled production of the film, Vincent Price’s performance, and some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits that viewers will surely enjoy.
  • The Revenge of Dr. Death: Making MadhouseThis nearly 11 minute featurette on the making of the film is short but exceptionally entertaining for fans of the film (and genre)! Beginning with American International Pictures and Amicus’ troubled pre-production process (where the initial adapted screenplay was flat-out refused by Vincent Price) to various participants’ thoughts on the last “hurrah” of the Gothic genre that Hammer Films and AIP helped to create, there is plenty for aficionados to enjoy here.
  • Madhouse Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just under two minutes and is utterly delightful for fans of the film. From the scrolling warning that opens the trailer to the cheesy voice-over, this is fantastic stuff!
  • Tales of Terror Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for another recent Kino Lorber release, Tales of Terror, is also quite a bit of fun. The trailer unfolds in typical AIP fashion with some of the standout scenes from the film complete with voiceover narration and exaggerated graphics work.

The Packaging:

This Blu-Ray edition from Kino Lorber (Studio Classics line) features the utterly amazing original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover. From Dr. Death’s face paint to the bloody font design and gothic atmosphere, it’s everything a classic Horror fan could ask for. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the Blu-Ray disc which also features the stylish cover design.

Madhouse (reverse)

Madhouse (reverse)

Madhouse (interior)

Madhouse (interior)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Report:

Madhouse remains one of my personal favorite Vincent Price films. The chemistry between Price and Cushing is fantastic and the story keeps the viewer guessing throughout; with a myriad of possibilities regarding the killer’s identity. Madhouse is a delightful little Horror treat; a self-aware gothic production that continues to entertain over forty years later. The Blu-Ray edition from Kino Lorber features a fine transfer that remains true to the film source and a nice selection of bonus material. The Revenge of Dr. Death featurette, though short, is fascinating for fans of the film and genre. The one disappointing factor on this edition is the audio sync issue that unfortunately affects most of the film. Kino has promised fans that it’s looking into the issue, so hopefully a replacement program will be made available shortly. I’m not sure why audiences didn’t flock to see the film back in 1974, but luckily, Madhouse is still fondly remembered enough to garner a solid Blu-Ray release and comes highly recommended.

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre


Howling II Blu-Ray Review

Blu-Ray Review- Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf

Distributor: Scream Factory

Street Date: July 14th 2015

Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono

Runtime: 91 Minutes

Howling II (Scream Factory)

Howling II (Scream Factory)

The Film:

Few would argue with the fact that Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is the very definition of a bad movie. One could also argue that this is the very reason why it’s so incredibly enjoyable. Absent from this sequel are the stylish storytelling, horrifying werewolf effects, and creeping suspense of Joe Dante’s original film. But what exactly does Howling II offer up for Horror fans? Horror legend Christopher Lee hamming it up with every line delivery, Sybil Danning’s incredible body and less-than-stellar acting abilities, random out-of-sequence editing that completely confuses the viewer, and an 80’s rock soundtrack complete with synthesizer and title-referencing music that is just about as cheesy as can be. It’s an endlessly enjoyable hodge-podge of self-referential humor, over-the-top performances, and terrible screenwriting. For B movie fans (those who get an insane kick out of MST3K style humor), Howling II is right up your alley!

The film attempts to pick up directly where Dante’s original left off, with the funeral for Karen White taking place and her brother Ben (Reb Brown) in mourning. Soon a mysterious man named Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee) appears and attempts to convince Ben that his sister’s death was more complicated than he realizes, and that his sister was, in fact, a werewolf. Though Dee Wallace is entirely absent from this sequel and the actress that replaces her will never be confused as her doppelganger, we’re soon introduced to the completely ridiculous “lost” footage of Karen’s violent death. Pay no mind to this sequence being completely different than the ending of the first film. No mind at all. Ben and Karen’s former colleague Jenny (Annie McEnroe) are soon not only convinced of his sister’s affliction, but of the entire underground existence of werewolves that threaten the human race. Stefan soon convinces Ben and Jenny to travel all the way to Transylvania to battle the queen of the werewolves, the incredibly sexy Stirba (Sybil Danning). This task, of course, turns out to be more difficult than any of them could imagine.

Howling II is one of those rainy day B movies that bad film aficionados can appreciate on so many levels. It’s also one that requires time to fully appreciate its awkwardness and charm. I remember seeing the first Howling as a teenager, absolutely loving it, and running straight back to the video store to get the sequel. Saying I was disappointed by what I saw that night would be an understatement when compared to the first film. But then something strange happened…I rented it again. Perhaps it was my burgeoning manhood craving countless playbacks of Sybil Danning’s best moments. Whatever the case may be, I’ve since been able to appreciate the film on that “next level”, savoring every moment of pure ridiculousness. With that being said, Howling II on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory comes highly recommended.

Video Quality:

Rest assured Horror fans (and bad movie aficionados); Howling II looks fantastic on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory! The natural film grain is plentiful, colors look accurate for the time period, and digital manipulation is entirely absent from the print. It should, and does, look like film. Scratches and slight damage occasionally rear their head, but they are few and far between. Facial features and fine object detail, while not the strongest I’ve seen for the decade, look quite clear here in High Definition.

Audio Quality:

The 2.0 DTS-HD audio track is a solid one, regularly balancing dialogue, background effects, and the cheesy score in fine fashion. There is a lack of power and depth to the overall experience, which is to be expected, but when paired with the great video, it makes for a finely presented experience.

Special Features:

Scream Factory has given Howling II a fantastic array of bonus features that will surely make you bark at the moon with joy. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:

  • Audio Commentaries (2) – Scream Factory has provided fans with two commentaries on this brand new Blu-Ray edition. The first commentary features Director Philippe Mora and the second has composer Steve Parsons and Editor Charles Bornstein. Both commentaries are informative for fans of the film and franchise!
  • Leading Man: An Interview with Actor Reb Brown- This brand new HD interview from Red Shirt Pictures features actor Reb Brown and runs nearly 14 minutes. It’s an absolute blast hearing from Reb, who was a club bouncer and training to be a Sheriff when he was noticed by casting agents and hired as a contract actor at Universal. Reb comes across as a delightful man, more football coach than Hollywood actor, and offers up some insightful stories regarding his career and the making of Howling II.
  • Queen of the Werewolves: An Interview with Actress Sybil Danning- This 17 minute interview has the still gorgeous Sybil Danning sharing her behind-the-scenes stories regarding the making of Howling II. Sybil is honest and forthright about her career, starting out as a model in Germany and making her way to Hollywood to star in films. Hearing Sybil discuss being a tomboy as a child and utilizing her imagination to “become” various characters growing up was especially enjoyable. Sybil’s stories about having dinner with Christopher Lee while being watched by the KGB is also a highlight! Great stuff!
  • A Monkey Phase: Interviews with Special Make-Up Effects Artists Steve Johnson and Scott Wheeler- This featurette runs 15 ½ minutes and features fantastic interviews with the makeup guys behind the film. Both artists discuss the beginnings in the industry and films they worked on before joining the team behind Howling II, the unique special effects and challenges for their team behind the scenes, and much more.
  • Alternate Opening-The alternate opening for the film runs 10 ½ minutes and features just a few alternate takes on specific scenes mostly consisting of some trimming of Christopher Lee and company talking after the funeral. There is really not too much of a difference here as I was straining to figure out exactly what had been cut or edited between the two.
  • Alternate Ending- The alternate ending runs roughly 9 ½ minutes, and much like the aforementioned alternate opening, doesn’t offer very much as far as unique differences. A few shots are extended or trimmed compared to the theatrical cut. Both versions luckily still feature Sybil Danning tearing off her clothes.
  • Behind the Scenes- This behind-the-scenes montage offers up some fun outtakes with the special effects crew and Director Philippe Mora work and runs nearly 4 minutes.
  • Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film lasts just over a minute in length and gives viewers a good general idea of the B-movie mayhem they’re in for with Howling II.
  • Still Gallery- Just over 8 minutes of behind-the-scenes photos and production stills that play along to the rockin’ 80’s theme from the film.

The Packaging:

This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover, which is one of my personal favorite 80’s posters. You definitely get the feeling of the silliness of the film (red lipstick and sunglasses) with the art included here. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the disc as well as some nice reversible artwork that fans can choose to display instead of the poster art.

Howling II (reverse)

Howling II (reverse)

Howling II (interior)

Howling II (interior)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Report:

Few would argue with the fact that Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is the very definition of a bad movie. One could also argue that this is the very reason why it’s so incredibly enjoyable. It’s one of those rainy day B movies that bad film aficionados can appreciate on so many levels, but also requires repeated viewings to fully appreciate its awkwardness and charm. The Blu-Ray presentation from Scream Factory is fantastic, with great video and audio that makes for a well-rounded presentation in High Definition. But it’s in the bonus features where Scream Factory will truly delight fans, with plenty of great interviews and featurettes with the cast and crew. Though disappointed with my first viewing as a young man, Sybil Danning kept bringing me back for repeat viewings. I’ve since been able to appreciate the film on that “next level”, savoring every moment of pure ridiculousness. With that being said, Howling II on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory comes highly recommended.

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre


It Follows Blu-Ray Review

Blu-Ray Review- It Follows

Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Street Date: July 14th 2015

Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Runtime: 100 Minutes

It Follows (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

It Follows (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

The Film:

If you’re a regular reader of my site, you’ll know that I haven’t been too kind to modern Horror releases over the past decade. My upbringing in classic Horror, stylish slashers, and the likes of Craven and Carpenter set a precedent for the genre that most modern features just can’t come close to as far as originality or suspense. It Follows is the unique exception. David Robert Mitchell’s film evokes Carpenter’s Halloween in its simplicity and production design, but stands on its own as a unique entry for the genre. The dialogue and character dynamics between the teenagers is very natural, the plot is simplistic yet consistently engaging, and the cinematography is absolutely stunning. Did I mention the score from Disasterpeace? It’s simply one of the most memorable Horror scores in recent memory.

It Follows stars the lovely Maika Monroe (The Guest) as Jay; your typical girl-next-door in suburban Detroit. She’s an avid swimmer, loves spending time with her sister and friends, and has recently begun dating the charming Hugh. When the couple go on a date at the local movie theater, an innocent game between the two becomes awkward when Hugh begins to have visions of a woman whom no one else can see. Their next date gets off to a better start, with Jay and Hugh making love in the backseat of his car. Once again, things become awkward when Hugh incapacitates Jay with chloroform immediately after sex. Jay soon wakes up in an abandoned parking garage as Hugh terrifyingly explains that a supernatural entity has been following him. It can take form in the shape of a stranger in a crowd or someone you know. This unfortunate curse moves slowly, but will always catch up to you sooner or later, and the only way to get rid of the curse is to have sex with someone, thereby passing it on to them (as Hugh as just done to Jay).

I won’t spoil the rest of the film as I’m hoping the above outline is enough to entice you. It Follows features fine performances from a talented cast that make their characters relatable and the ensuing chaos that much more terrifying. That’s not to say the film is without flaws. The “creepy” factor is high here, but genuine scares are somewhat light. The filmmaker’s decision to allow the entity to embody anybody certainly looks good on paper, but it also allows the fear factor to fluctuate accordingly depending on the resulting form (i.e. the tall man contrasted with an elderly woman). Nevertheless, It Follows is full of style and suspense from beginning to end, resulting in a modern day Horror entry that stands out among the rest.

Video Quality:

The beautiful high definition image on display truly captures the gorgeous cinematography at work! Black levels are inky and deep, colors pop, and clarity is crystal clear. Everything from the suburban Detroit neighborhood’s green grasses and brick-lined houses to the film’s more gory deep red blood splatter moments offer up pristine video quality on Blu-Ray. Outstanding!

Audio Quality:

This 5.1 DTS-HD track is equally as impressive, bringing the movie to full life throughout your home theater system. The brooding and suspenseful tone works incredibly well across all channels, making for the perfect home viewing experience. Dialogue always comes through crisp and clean, and the phenomenal score from Disasterpeace envelops the viewer completely.

Special Features:

Anchor Bay Entertainment has provided fans of It Follows with some light but overall solid special features for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:

  • Critics Commentary– Hosted by Scott Weinberg (Nerdist) and featuring call-in guests like Samuel D. Zimmerman of Shock Till You Drop and Eric Vespe of Aint It Cool News (among many others), this unique commentary acts gives viewers some nice background information on the film itself as well as some interesting impressions that the film left with these critics. It’s a bit unconventional, but engaging, nonetheless.
  • A Conversation with Film Composer Disasterpeace- This one runs nearly 5 minutes and features the composer discussing his work on It Follows, how he became involved in the production, and his intention of bringing the right eerie elements together to strike the appropriate tone.
  • Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just over 2 minutes and gives viewers a brief glimpse into the subtle genius of the film.
  • Poster Art Gallery- Various artists from around the world provide their artwork from the film’s theatrical release campaign. There are some fun and interesting artistic impressions at work here.

The Packaging:

As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Anchor Bay Entertainment features the original theatrical poster design for It Follows. I personally love the non-traditional design with Jay making out with Hugh in the backseat of the car. The foggy background surrounding the pair along with the woodland setting is subtle and really evokes a creepy atmosphere. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis for the film, a short list of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills. On the interior of the case are the Blu-Ray disc and the Ultraviolet Digital copy code.

It Follows (reverse)

It Follows (reverse)

It Follows (interior)

It Follows (interior)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Report:

David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows evokes John Carpenter’s Halloween in its genius simplicity and outstanding production design, but stands on its own as a truly unique entry in the Horror genre. The film features fine performances from a talented cast that make their characters relatable and the ensuing chaos that much more terrifying. The Blu-Ray edition from Anchor Bay Entertainment exhibits outstanding video and audio quality, and though the special features are somewhat light, they’re informative for fans nonetheless. It Follows is full of style and suspense from beginning to end, resulting in a modern day Horror entry that stands out among the rest, and comes highly recommended.

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre


The Babadook Limited Edition Blu-Ray Review

Blu-Ray Review- The Babadook

Distributor: Scream Factory

Street Date: April 14th 2015

Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Runtime: 93 Minutes

The Babadook (Scream Factory)

The Babadook (Scream Factory)

The Film:

“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t rid of the Babadook”

Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook will stay with you long after the final credits roll. It’s not your typical Horror film, and I’m actually finding it difficult to describe it as anything but an incredibly well-executed drama that happens to feature some horror elements. It’s about grief, loss, and the struggles of parenting. There is indeed a Babadook…but exactly what is it and what does it represent? Jennifer Kent has crafted a unique little masterpiece that steps outside the lines of Horror and forces it’s viewers to dig deeper.

In The Babadook, Amelia Vannick (Essie Davis) is a single mother raising her 7-year old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a child with considerable emotional and behavioral needs. Years prior, Samuel’s father was killed in a car accident while driving Amelia to the hospital to give birth to him. The accident has left Amelia with nightmares, and left her son without a father figure in his life to aid in raising him. Samuel’s daily behaviors wreak havoc on Amelia’s sleep, and things grow more desperate when Samuel brings some homemade weapons to school and gets expelled.

One night the pair decides to read a mysterious pop-up book called The Babadook that Samuel finds in his room. The story starts out innocently enough, but grows more disturbing as they read on. The top-hat wearing, clawed menace from the book begins to haunt their dreams, and soon spills into their everyday life. As sleepless nights begin to make it hard to differentiate one day from the next, and fantasy from reality, Amelia and Samuel fight for their lives against the mysterious Babadook.

My plot synopsis is purposely vague, as I would hate to ruin this fantastic tale for the viewer. Jennifer Kent expanded upon some great ideas she displayed in her short film Monster, and crafted a true genre masterpiece with The Babadook. The acting from Essie Davis in particular is stellar, making for a performance that evokes incredible sympathy from the viewer. Young Noah Wiseman is also particularly good here, delivering a believable portrayal of a boy terrorized by not just a “monster”, but in knowing that he’s different from his peers. The Babadook is both scary and dramatically effective, with plenty of style and atmosphere that easily bests most modern day Horror fare, and comes highly recommended.

Video Quality:

This brand new HD transfer of the film looks simply splendid. The interiors of the house offer up a nice blue-gray color palette, which look gorgeously drab. Facial features and fine object detail are a standout, with fantastic depth and clarity throughout. Black levels are also as solid as can be, with an inky perfection that works wonderfully for this type of genre (where anything could pop out from behind the shadows). There isn’t even the slightest hint of artifacts or blemishes here. The Babadook looks perfect on this Blu-Ray from Scream Factory.

Audio Quality:

The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track is a solid one, and pairs well with the fantastic video quality. Dialogue comes through clean and clear, and the brooding music and background effects are perfectly captured here. The sound design of this relatively single-space film really envelops you in your home theater, maximizing the anxiety while watching.

Special Features:

Scream Factory has provided fans of The Babadook with a fantastic selection of bonus features for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:

  • Jennifer Kent’s Short Film, Monster: This short film from director Jennifer Kent runs just over ten minutes and shares some thematic qualities with The Babadook. Filmed in Black and White, the story centers on a mother struggling with her son’s insistence that his doll is real. She hides the doll in the downstairs closet, which only unleashes a further disturbance in their home. The “monster” of the film shares more than a few qualities with The Babadook (claws/hands), and the pop-up book that she reads to her son was obviously an early influence on her later film as well. This was rather brilliant, and definitely offers up some scares in a short amount of time.
  • Deleted Scenes– Nearly 3 minutes of deleted scenes from the film include: Amelia picking Sam up from school after his suspension, Amelia checking-in on Sam after the birthday party mishap, and Amelia bringing Sam to Gracie’s before her shift. The first two scenes were easily left on the cutting room floor, but I would have welcomed the addition of the final one. Gracie’s line “It’s not a crime to ask for help love” is quite moving, and it further allows the viewer to experience Amelia’s daily struggle.
  • Creating the Book with illustrator Alex Juhasz- This nearly 4 minute featurette has designer Alex Juhasz (of The United States of Tara’s opening sequence) discussing and showcasing his handmade pop-up book featured in The Babadook. I loved hearing Alex discuss his designs and the process that he used to create something unique in a territory he was fairly unfamiliar with. Great stuff!
  • A Tour of the House Set- This featurette runs nearly 7 minutes and has the crew showing the process that went into creating the interior sets of the house featured in the film. It’s interesting to hear from the crew regarding their color and design choices for the set, which feature a very storybook-like quality to them.
  • The Stunts: Jumping the Stairs– This short featurette runs almost 2 minutes and offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Essie Davis, Jennifer Kent, and the stunt coordinator trying to make a flying-wire sequence work as Essie’s character is moving quickly up the stairs.
  • Special Effects: The Stabbing Scene– This one runs 1 ½ minutes and has the crew showcasing the effects work that goes into a “stabbing” sequence in a Horror film, which pretty much just includes clothing and a leg of lamb. What a fun job these folks have!
  • Behind the Scenes- Yet another behind-the-scenes featurette that runs nearly 3 minutes and features Jennifer Kent directing the birthday party sequence from the film and one of Amelia’s long nights “zoned out” in front of the television.
  • Cast and Crew Interviews- This is the most extensive portion of the bonus features, with individual interviews with many members of the cast and crew. The entire feature runs over an hour in length, but for those of you wanting to dig more in-depth on the film’s deeper meanings, it’s all rather insightful.
  • Theatrical Trailer- This is actually several theatrical trailers for the film that last nearly 5 minutes altogether.

The Packaging:

As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features some of the most brilliant artwork and overall design of the year thus far. The red matte finish slipcover opens up to reveal a 3D pop-up book effect of the Babadook himself, along with the now-famous tagline from the movie. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, a list of special features and technical specifications, and a continuation of the artwork. On the interior of the slipcover is the standard Blu-Ray case, which has reversible artwork for fans to choose from. The interior of the case features the Blu-Ray disc which also has some standout artwork. Hats off to Shout! Factory’s Mindy Kang for the packaging design!

The Babadook (slipcover interior)

The Babadook (slipcover interior)

The Babadook (reverse)

The Babadook (reverse)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Babadook (slipcover pop-up effect)

The Babadook (slipcover pop-up effect)

The Babadook (interior)

The Babadook (interior)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Report:

The Babadook will stay with you long after the final credits roll. It’s not your typical Horror film, being both scary and dramatically effective, with plenty of style and atmosphere that easily bests most modern day genre fare. Jennifer Kent has crafted a unique little masterpiece that steps outside the genre lines and forces it’s viewers to dig deeper. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features truly outstanding video and audio quality, a wealth of fun bonus material, and the best packaging job of 2015 thus far. The “pop-up” book slipcover is a genius design, and is especially welcome for admirers of unique home video packaging. The Babadook comes highly recommended.

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre


Invaders from Mars Blu-Ray Review

Blu-Ray Review- Invaders from Mars

Distributor: Scream Factory

Street Date: April 7th 2015

Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Runtime: 99 Minutes

Invaders from Mars (Scream Factory)

Invaders from Mars (Scream Factory)

The Film:

Being an uber-fan of all things science fiction, mars-related, and of B-movie camp value, it’s an absolute wonder that I don’t find Tobe Hooper’s 1986 remake of Invaders from Mars very enjoyable. It’s the kind of film where all the right elements are in place…but it never quite gels to offer anything substantial in the end. The intentions of the filmmakers are curious, as if they’re constantly jumping back and forth between the lines of serious science fiction, parody, and goofy children’s theatrics. This may indeed have been the purpose, but nevertheless, their efforts veer more toward an uneven bore than anything worth remembering. I’m not usually so hard on the genre, as my regular readers well know, but coming from the genius of Tobe Hooper I expected more. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist, and Lifeforce are easy recommendations from me and each offer up something very unique to the Horror genre. Invaders from Mars on the other hand, alas, does not.

In the film, little David Gardner (Hunter Carson) lives an idyllic childhood. His father, a NASA employee, takes the time to stargaze with him on a nightly basis and his mother is as doting and comforting as Mrs. Cleaver. Yes, everything is wonderful until David witnesses a large alien spacecraft land in the fields behind his house. His parents assure him that this couldn’t possibly have been the case, and that he must have been dreaming. Even so, his Dad assures David that he’ll look into it the next morning.

Sure enough the next morning Dad has investigated the supposed landing, is missing a shoe, and acting more than a little strange. Not only does he have a mysterious wound on the back of his neck, but he also has a sudden craving for piping hot coffee with tic-tac’s and burnt bacon strips. Our young protagonist tries to resume his normal life but David’s Dad soon takes his mother for a stroll into the back fields, and she returns “changed” as well. When his already creepy teacher at school (Louise Fletcher) sports the very same neck wound (not to mention a sudden craving for live frogs), David’s only safety net comes in the form of Linda, the school Nurse (Karen Black, young Carson’s real-life mother). Soon David and Linda are running for their lives from the Martian invasion (while also somehow actively investigating it), and even rack up some muscle with some help from the military. It’s now up to David, Linda, and the US Army to take down the dastardly race of Martians and their master supreme.

Invaders from Mars has its moments, including some very unique Martian designs, a solid score, and fun special effects for the time…but it simply doesn’t click for me like it seems to for so many others (as mentioned above). The acting is uneven, the script and dialogue uninspired, and the movie never quite finds its rhythm. For those that do enjoy it, this brand new Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory is the way to go.

Video Quality:

I may not be the biggest fan of the film itself, but Scream Factory’s High Definition presentation of Invaders from Mars will surely please those that enjoy the film. The picture is clear and crisp for the most part, with only the occasional scratches. Film grain is natural and authentic, with no digital scrubbing evident. The colors look accurate as well, with nice reproduction and timing, and solid black levels to boot. This is without a doubt the best the film has ever looked on home video!

Audio Quality:

The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track is also another standout aspect of this release. Dialogue comes through clean and clear with only the occasional muffled effect. The action and score are also well represented on all channels, and though it certainly won’t wake the neighbors with its power, the track suits the film well.

Special Features:

Scream Factory has provided fans of Invaders from Mars with an array of bonus features for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:

  • Audio Commentary with Director Tobe Hooper: This audio commentary with Tobe Hooper is a great companion piece to The Martians are Coming documentary (discussed directly below), with Tobe running through all things related to the film including the conception of remaking the 50’s classic, pre-production and planning, the actors involved, special effects sequences, etc.
  • The Martians are Coming! The Making of Invaders from Mars– Running over 36 minutes, this fantastic retrospective documentary from Red Shirt Pictures features Director Tobe Hooper, Composer Christopher Young, Hunter Carson (David Gardner), Alec Gillis (special creature effects), and many more talent involved in the making of Invaders from Mars. I can’t imagine a more definitive documentary for fans, who will absolutely appreciate hearing about all the behind-the-scenes interactions among the cast, pre-production planning, the insanely cool creature effects, and so much more. Wonderful stuff!
  • Theatrical Trailer & TV Spot- The original theatrical trailer and a television spot are provided separately here (although under the same bonus prompt), and the pair run nearly 2 minutes.
  • Production Illustration Gallery from Artist William Stout- William Stout, who designed the Martians in the film, provides commentary on over 14 minutes of his original illustrations he created during the production of the film. His approach is fascinating, especially on a relatively low budget film, and the final designs compared to the Martians in the film are very impressive!
  • Storyboards– This bonus gives us over 4 minutes of storyboards from the production of the film. It’s really fun to get an idea of what the filmmakers wanted to accomplish during their planning stages and how accurate the final scenes turned out.
  • Still Gallery– Just over 2 minutes of posters, production stills, and behind-the-scenes photos from Invaders from Mars.

The Packaging:

As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for Invaders from Mars. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, a list of special features and technical specifications, as well as select production stills from the film. On the interior of the packaging is the Blu-Ray disc and some fantastic reversible cover art that I wish Scream Factory would have printed for a Collector’s Edition slipcover!

Invaders from Mars (reverse)

Invaders from Mars (reverse)

Invaders from Mars (interior)

Invaders from Mars (interior)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Report:

Being an uber-fan of all things science fiction, mars-related, and of B-movie camp value, it’s an absolute wonder that I don’t find Tobe Hooper’s 1986 remake of Invaders from Mars very enjoyable. It’s the kind of film where all the right elements are in place…but it never quite gels to offer anything substantial in the end. The good news here for fans of the film (and there are plenty of you) is that the video quality is fantastic and the 5.1 DTS-HD audio comes through clean and clear. The special features, notably the incredible documentary The Martians are Coming! from Red Shirt Pictures, are once again the standout aspect of this release. Though it’s not my personal cup-o-Martian-tea, Invaders from Mars still comes recommended for fans!

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre


Blind Woman’s Curse Blu-Ray Review (USA Version)

Blu-Ray Review- Blind Woman’s Curse

Distributor: Arrow Video USA

Street Date: March 24th 2015

Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.44:1 Aspect Ratio, Japanese Mono PCM Audio

Runtime: 85 Minutes

Blind Woman's Curse (Arrow Video USA)

Blind Woman’s Curse (Arrow Video USA)

The Film:

Teruo Ishii’s Blind Woman’s Curse is a bizarre and highly entertaining mix of samurai films and traditional Japanese ghost stories. Having seen this and Lady Snowblood after the fact, it’s very clear that Director Quentin Tarantino paid homage to these violent yet strangely beautiful films from the Nikkatsu and Toho catalogs with his Kill Bill series.

In the beginning of the film we meet Akemi (Meiko Kaji), leader of the Tachibana yakuza clan, as she leads her fellow dragon tattooed warriors against a rival gang. This sequence is one of the most beautiful battle scenes I have encountered in film, with a mix of fast action and slow motion camera techniques capturing the dueling samurai swords clashing in the rain. The showdown comes to a screeching halt with Akemi blinding the brother of the rival gang’s leader, Boss Goda. A black cat licks the blood from the injured girls face, growling and staring at Akema as she becomes cursed for what she has done.

We follow Akemi to her prison experience some time later, as she tells her story to fellow female inmates. The blind girl and black cat are giving her nightmares, and she knows revenge will soon follow. Cut to three years later, the local villages are in a state of unrest as the rival gang war over territory reaches a new peak. The blind woman slowly begins to exact her revenge on Akemi’s gang, skinning the dragon tattoos from their backs one-by-one.

Director Ishii’s film is heavy on style and mood, but has a sense of humor about the story at hand as well, as evidence by some of the outrageous facial expressions left on the blind woman’s victims. The female characters are very strong in this, with some of the male roles left solely for comic relief. This is a welcome gender role change from other Japanese films that proceeded Blind Woman’s Curse, helping to usher in a new era in cult cinema’s tough women.

The climactic showdown between Akemi and the blind woman is skillfully done and a treat for genre fans. This movie is a lot of fun, everything from the sincere performances, light comedic moments, matte painting backgrounds, set design, and musical score creates a mood that is undeniably cult and consistently entertaining.

Video Quality:

Arrow Video’s US release for Blind Woman’s Curse features an updated transfer that is even more impressive than the UK release counterpart. The US version looks slightly darker by comparison, with better contrast and a more authentic overall look to the film. From my original UK review: Arrow Video has breathed new life into this 1970 cult-classic with a 1080P transfer that retains the look of the time period, yet graces us with a remastered image that looks great on a High Definition screen. Colors are authentic and bold, from the slightly blue hue of the timing to the bright red blood spraying on the walls, there is a balance here that looks marvelous. There is some minor print damage in some scenes including scratches and “pops”, but it’s never distracting and adds to the cult atmosphere. Detail is crystal clear in most scenes, particularly close-up shots of the main cast. I also didn’t detect any digital noise reduction or edge enhancement on the transfer, which is always a bonus for those of us that appreciate the original intended look of the film. This is yet another standout transfer from Arrow.

Audio Quality:

The uncompressed Linear PCM mono track included here is surprisingly powerful, even though it doesn’t have the dynamic range of HD 5.1. Dialogue is supported very well, as are the incredible action scenes. There is a respectable balance to the audio that Arrow provided, and it absolutely sounds authentic to the time period of the film. Swords clang and clash, blood squirts, and flesh peals in glorious detail. There’s a little bit of everything to find safely balanced on this track. Well done.

Special Features:

Arrow Video USA has included the same decent if not relatively limited bonus content here, but the audio commentary alone is extremely informative and well worth listening to. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:

  • Audio Commentary by Japanese Cinema Expert Jasper Sharp– Truly an expert on the genre and time period for Japanese cinema, Jasper’s commentary makes for a very entertaining audio experience.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer– This is a short but fun trailer for the film that originally played in front of Japanese audiences in 1970.
  • Stray Cat Rock Trailer Series– Four trailers for Nikkatsu studio films also starring Meiko Kaji.

The Packaging:

As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this US Blu-Ray edition from Arrow Video features some spectacular cover art featuring Meiko Kaji and her dragon tattoo by artist Gilles Vranckx. You also have the option of reversing the sleeve for alternate art as well. The included Blu-Ray and DVD discs also feature some nice art with a blood-red color scheme. You will also find a very detailed booklet with behind-the-scenes photographs and an essay by Tom Mes titled Meiko’s Adventures in Professor Ishii’s Erotic-Grotesque Wonderland.

Blind Woman's Curse (reverse)

Blind Woman’s Curse (reverse)

Blind Woman's Curse (interior)

Blind Woman’s Curse (interior)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Report:

Blind Woman’s Curse is an enormously entertaining cult mix of Japanese samurai films, yakuza culture, and traditional ghost stories. With an odd but fascinating mix of drama, action, and dark comedy, there is a little something for everyone in this film. Though the audio track remains similar to the UK version, the new US transfer from Arrow Video is top notch, further elevating the already sharp looking disc with better contrast and a more pleasing darker image. Though this release is still slightly lacking in the bonus features department, it’s a minor quibble in the scheme of things. Serving as one of Arrow Video’s flagship titles for their upcoming US releases, Blind Woman’s Curse remains an absolute treat to add to the collection, and comes highly recommended.

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre


Mark of the Devil Blu-Ray Review

Blu-Ray Review- Mark of the Devil

Distributor: Arrow Video USA

Street Date: March 17th 2015

Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.66:1 Aspect Ratio, Linear PCM Mono Audio

Runtime: 97 Minutes

Mark of the Devil (Arrow Video USA)

Mark of the Devil (Arrow Video USA)

The Film:

The subject of Witchcraft throughout history, along with the truly evil individuals who accused the innocent, has long been a staple of Horror cinema. It is often the most nightmarish history of humankind that makes for the most captivating Horror films, and Mark of the Devil stands alongside Witchfinder General (a.k.a. The Conqueror Worm) as one of the genre’s best.

Based on “authentic documents” from three cases in British history, Mark of the Devil opens with disturbing brutality, as the accused townsfolk in an 18th century Austrian village are burned at the stake and tarred and feathered for their roles in supposed Witchcraft. Count Christian Von Meruh (Udo Kier) eagerly awaits the arrival of his master Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom); the Chief Witchfinder in the region. He respects his master as a good pupil does, but grows increasingly weary of the judgments they are forced to hand down with little evidence. It doesn’t help that Christian’s local love interest Vanessa (the lovely Olivera Vuco) has been accused of Witchcraft from a fellow Witchfinder named Albino (a truly nasty performance from Reggie Nalder). As the number of innocents accused grows substantially, the ulterior motives and hypocrisy of Christian’s superiors becomes more evident. Tensions build and relationships crumble as Christian leads the townspeople in an uprising against the Witchfinders he once aligned with.

Mark of the Devil is a handsomely produced film, aside from the English dubbing of what must have been hard to understand German and Italian accents, which can be quite absurd at times. In the end though, it strangely enhances the unique flavor of the film overall. The beautiful location scenery is truly something to behold, along with historical buildings that once held actual witchcraft trials and public executions that add to the “creepy” factor of some scenes. The score from Michael Holm is also a standout aspect of the film, consistently raising the tension and suspense as the film progressively grows more disturbing. The gore, for the time, must have been fairly difficult to stomach for audiences, and remains disturbing especially given the actual history behind the true cases the film used as inspiration. Mark of the Devil was a treat to revisit in High Definition, and makes for an impressive North American Blu-Ray debut from Arrow Video.

Video Quality:

Arrow Video makes their U.S. debut with a stellar transfer for Mark of the Devil. Simply gorgeous is an understatement. To be honest, I was a little worried during the “fish-eye” lens opening credit sequence, which appears intentionally Vaseline-smeared, but features more than few unwelcome artifacts. But as soon as the credits are over, the vibrant colors light up the screen, the natural film grain is intact, and definition and detail in faces, clothing and scenery are pristine. The bright-orange blaze of the witch burnings, crimson red blood, and lush green summer scenery all add to the beauty of this transfer. Extremely well done!

Audio Quality:

The Linear PCM mono audio track does a fine job, even with the sometimes laughably bad dubbing that accompanies the print. It’s a front heavy track that captures the music, background effects, and subtle sound design well enough for fans, while never fully capturing the immersive experience of a multi-channel job.

Special Features:

Arrow Video has provided fans of Mark of the Devil with an incredible array of bonus material for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:

  • Audio Commentary by Michael Armstrong– The Director sits down (along with moderator) to discuss the Blu-Ray release of the Uncut version of his film. Fans will be incredibly pleased with Mr. Armstrong’s behind-the-scenes stories from the making of the film, its controversial subject matter and advertising in both Britain and America, and discussion of the actors from the film. Fantastic and informative!
  • Mark of the Times: The New Wave of British Bloodshed- This documentary from High Rising Productions focuses on the “new wave” of British Horror directors from the 1960’s and 1970’s and features contributions from several experts in the field. Clocking in at over 47 minutes, this piece offers fascinating insight into the British Horror genre including the catalog of beloved Hammer films. Filmed in High Definition, this is a nice companion piece to this set and is endlessly engaging for fans of the genre.
  • Hellmark of the DevilThis featurette has author Michael Gingold (of Fangoria fame) discussing the distributor of Mark of the Devil, Hallmark Releasing Corp., and runs just over 12 minutes. Hallmark’s unique advertising of their films released in America included the “barf bag” gimmick, posters featuring stills & actors from other films, and creative trailers that offered truly groundbreaking slogans that pulled audiences into theaters.
  • Mark of the Devil: Then and Now- This featurette runs just over 7 minutes and features some truly gorgeous locations from the film, as seen in the film, and how they appear now in 2015. Set against the film’s score and a series of running images, it’s fairly simple but effective nonetheless, and makes one appreciate the lengths the filmmakers went to achieve some breathtaking location shoots among the landscapes and architectural beauty.
  • Interviews- Several separate interviews are presented including Udo Kier, Michael Holm, Herbert Fux, Gaby Fuchs, Ingeborg Schoner, and Herbert Lom. Udo Kier’s take on the film’s production is especially fascinating, as he details the issues regarding Michael Armstrong being credited as the Director even though the production designer actually finished shooting the film. Udo felt that Michael had “too many artistic ideas” for the studio heads to deal with at the time. Great stuff!
  • Outtakes- Just over 3 minutes of random footage/test shots from the film. Some of the “clapper” scenes and effects shots are seen here from production. I may add that the footage is in ridiculously good shape! Looks beautiful in high definition.
  • Gallery- Posters, lobby cards, VHS sleeves, and other memorabilia from collector Christian Holzmann that lasts about 2 ½ minutes.
  • Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs roughly 3 ½ minutes and is in pretty good shape! The gory trailer includes some of the great effects shots from the film, nudity, and plenty of thrilling suspense scenes.

The Packaging:

This Blu-Ray edition from Arrow Video features impressive newly-commissioned artwork Graham Humphreys and has the likes of Udo Kier, Herbert Lom, and Reggie Nalder on the cover, along with some horrific witch-hunt imagery. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, production stills, a list of special features, and technical specifications. On the interior of the case is the Blu-Ray disc complete with a reversible wrap featuring the original theatrical artwork. Last but not least, an illustrated booklet is included featuring essays by Adrian Smith and Anthony Nield. This is quite the gorgeous package!

Mark of the Devil (reverse)

Mark of the Devil (reverse)

Mark of the Devil (interior)

Mark of the Devil (interior)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Report:

Mark of the Devil stands alongside Witchfinder General as one of the best the sub-genre has to offer. The film itself is handsomely produced, with beautiful location scenery and historical buildings that once held actual witchcraft trials, which add to its eerie effectiveness. The Blu-Ray edition offers up a gorgeous transfer with vibrant colors and natural film grain, along with an impressive audio track to boot. The special features are the absolute standout though, with the Mark of the Times documentary and captivating featurettes that will surely please fans of the film. Mark of the Devil was a treat to revisit in High Definition, and makes for an impressive North American Blu-Ray debut from Arrow Video.

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre