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
“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.
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.
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.
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 Stairs– This 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.
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 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!
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
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.
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!
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!
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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 Devil– This 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.
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 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.
Blu-Ray Review- Exterminators of the Year 3000
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: March 3rd 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Let’s go ahead and discuss the elephant in the room before we even begin. Giuliano Carnimeo’s Exterminators of the Year 3000 (1983) is a direct rip-off of George Miller’s The Road Warrior (1981). There is no opposing viewpoint or argument in defense of Exterminators’ originality, it’s written in stone. Whether or not that’s the reason Carnimeo took the pseudonym Jules Harrison as his directing credit, we’ll never know. The only reason I state the obvious here is because Exterminators of the Year 3000 is nevertheless, highly enjoyable. It’s an absolute cheese-fest of epic low budget proportions, and as long as you can go in with this mindset, I’m positive you’ll have a howling good time (the awful Italian to English dubbing alone is worth your while).
In the film, a band of survivors live out of a makeshift cave base in the post-apocalyptic future. The earth is now a scorching hot desert with a roaming motorcycle gang on the prowl for water, led by the hilariously insane Crazy Bull. The band of survivors sent out one of their own to search for a new water supply, but he never returned. Growing more desperate as each day passes without life’s most essential substance, the group decides to send out a new group, but they are quickly decimated by Crazy Bull’s gang. The only survivor of the massacre is young Tommy (son of the first searcher), who comes across a lone badass named Alien (Robert Iannucci). After some initial trust issues between the two lone wanderers are sorted out, Alien begrudgingly agrees to help Tommy and his people find water and take on Crazy Bull and his army of psychos.
From the ultra-80’s synthesizer score and the incredibly awful dubbing to some fairly well orchestrated action scenes (not to mention a few laughable ones), there is something for everyone in Exterminators of the Year 3000. It’s a guilty pleasure for sure, but in name only as one shouldn’t feel guilty for enjoying cheesy movies. They’re this particular reviewer’s bread and butter. It may be a complete rip-off of The Road Warrior/Mad Max franchise, but that’s all part of the fun.
Scream Factory’s High Definition presentation of Exterminators of the Year 3000 is pretty solid overall, exhibiting the film’s dusty post-apocalyptic color palette with nice detail and relatively clean of debris. There are some standout scenes, mostly in the first 30 minute of the film that suffer from clarity issues and digital noise, but they are few and far between. From what I understand, this is the first time the film has been presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio, and to my eyes, it looks surprisingly good given the budget, import status, and time period.
The DTS-HD mono track included herein is also impressive, relaying the hilarious dubbed dialogue, car battles, and explosions in very clear fashion on your home surround system. It has a slightly tinny/hollow feel at times when the action/score let up, but overall the film sounds impressive on Blu-Ray.
Scream Factory has provided fans of Exterminators of the Year 3000 with select bonus features for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary with Robert Iannucci: This audio commentary features actor Robert Iannucci (Alien) discussing the film in depth, from the production to casting and filming the action scenes, he has plenty to say about the making of the film.
- Boogie Down with the Alien: Interview with Robert Iannucci– This nearly 18-minute interview with Robert Iannucci is slightly repetitive if you’ve already watched the commentary at this point, but it’s entertaining nonetheless. This particular interview segment was borrowed from a previous Code Red DVD release.
- Trailer- This original theatrical trailer lasts nearly four minutes (!) and gives viewers an overview of nearly every action scene in the film.
- TV Spots- 43 seconds of original television spots from the film’s theatrical promotional campaign.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for Exterminators of the Year 3000. 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 fun background art with a poster and more production stills from the film.
Exterminators of the Year 3000 is an absolute cheese-fest of epic low budget proportions, and as long as this is understood beforehand, I’m positive you’ll have a howling good time. From the ultra-80’s synthesizer score and the incredibly awful dubbing to some fairly well orchestrated action scenes (not to mention a few laughable ones), there is something for everyone here. It’s a guilty pleasure for sure, but in name only as one shouldn’t feel guilty for enjoying cheesy movies. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features impressive video and audio quality for a film of this nature, and the special features, though light, are entertaining for fans. It’s an admittedly cheesy and borrowed affair, but Exterminators of the Year 3000 comes recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Love at First Bite/Once Bitten
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: February 10th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 96 Minutes/94 Minutes
Before I even discuss the movies themselves, can we take a moment to applaud Scream Factory’s efforts to mix things up a bit when it comes to catalog releases? Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Horror distributor is releasing this double feature for 1979’s Love at First Bite and 1985’s Once Bitten (not to mention Vampire’s Kiss/High Spirits as well). Their willingness to cater slightly outside the genre circle with these Horror comedy-romances speaks highly to both their business savvy and knowledge of their fan base.
Love at First Bite– In this 1979 comedy, bronze statue George Hamilton portrays Count Dracula, who along with his trusted Renfield, is forced to vacate his castle to make room an Olympic Training facility. Believing that New York model Cindy Sondheim (Susan Saint James) is the reincarnation of his one true love, he soon arrives in the Big Apple searching for her. Subsequently, her Psychiatrist Jeffrey Rosenberg (Richard Benjamin) happens to be the grandson of Dracula’s nemesis: Van Helsing. Though it’s certainly not a laugh-a-minute affair, as a Horror fan, it’s the type of comedy that brings the perma-smiles throughout. It’s corny, cute, harmless, and unequivocally stuck in its place and time.
Once Bitten– This 1985 comedy stars a young Jim Carrey as Mark Kendall; a desperate High School kid in L.A. who just wants to get laid. With his girlfriend’s rejections and ongoing desire to wait until she’s ready, a fed-up Mark and his friends decide to hit up the local club scene in search of easy sex. There, Mark meets The Countess (Lauren Hutton), who whisks him away to her mansion for a seemingly good time. Mark is bitten (and fooled into thinking he finally had sex), but has not been completely “turned” into a Vampire yet. His increasingly odd behavior begins to worry his friends and girlfriend, and the Countess pursues desperate measures to finish what she started. Once Bitten, sadly, hasn’t held up too well over the past 30 years. It’s a somewhat fascinating film for Jim Carrey fans to see the young actor hamming it up, but that’s likely the only reason you’ll keep watching. There is some fun chemistry between Lauren Hutton and Cleavon Little (as The Countess’ assistant), but other than that, this is a mostly yawn-inducing 80’s effort.
Let’s begin with Love at First Bite. The print utilized here is a clean one (given the period stock), sporting natural film grain and an authentic color palette. The black levels are surprisingly inky and solid, with only the occasional white speckling or debris visible periodically throughout the film. Once Bitten looks even better, with fantastic grain structure and color reproduction on display. Both films look surprisingly good in High Definition.
The 2.0 HD mono tracks works well for both movies; supporting dialogue and intermittent music and background sound design appropriately. Neither audio track is going to “wow” you with sheer power necessarily, but they get the job done for the respective films they accompany.
Scream Factory has given this blood-sucking double feature select bonus features for fans to peruse, and only for Love at First Bite. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for Love at First Bite.
- Radio Spots- Select radio spots that played throughout the theatrical campaign for Love at First Bite. I love when Scream Factory includes these gems on their releases, as they truly serve as a nostalgic time machine of sorts for genre lovers and Horror fans.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory mimics their past double feature releases with the original theatrical poster design for each film along with the double feature logo centered at the bottom. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis for each film, a short list of special features for each, technical specifications, and select production stills from the films. Inside the case are two Blu-Ray discs as well as more production stills on the reverse wrap.
I have to applaud Scream Factory for mixing things up with this Comedy-Horror double feature for Love at First Bite and Once Bitten. Their willingness to cater outside the genre circle speaks to both their business savvy and knowledge of their cult-classic loving fan-base. Love at First Bite is a cheesy delight that offers up some light laughs and a perma-smile that’s hard to shake, while Once Bitten is pure 80’s mediocrity that serves as a “curiosity” for those that want to see a young Jim Carrey shine, but offers little beyond. Nevertheless, this is a fun double feature release with great video and decent audio, but one that does admittedly run a little light on the special features. This release still easily gets my recommendation as a fun horror-comedy marathon for a rainy evening.
Blu-Ray Review- ABC’s of Death 2
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Street Date: February 3rd 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 122 Minutes
Anthologies may just be my very favorite type of cinema when it comes to the horror genre. From 1972’s Tales from the Crypt to 1982’s Creepshow and even 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat, they have the ability to absorb us as viewers with short, masterfully told tales of terror. In 2012 Magnet Releasing and Drafthouse Films teamed up to give us The ABC’s of Death; twenty-six Horror shorts directed by 26 different filmmakers who were each assigned a letter of the alphabet in which to weave their madness around. The concept was rather brilliant, but the execution left me wanting more. Those shorts ranged from masterfully well done to utterly pointless and the just plain bizarre. That films sequel, ABC’s of Death 2, offers up more of the same, but luckily for us, this time around the good outweighs the bad.
Rather than executing your typical review where I break down each segment, I thought I would explore the best and the worst of ABC’s of Death 2:
- A is for Amateur from E.L. Katz is a stylish and wickedly hilarious segment that follows a hit-man’s latest assassination, first from the perspective of how he imagines it happening, and then, how it actually occurs (which is, to say the least, much less smooth than he had imagined).
- B is for Badger from Julian Barratt is also ridiculously funny and involves a wildlife camera crew encountering a “larger than average” badger that lives in an ominous hole in the ground. The situation is drawn out for maximum effect and when “it” finally happens it’s unexpected and darkly comical.
- D is for Deloused from Robert Morgan is an awfully disgusting stop-motion segment that has a giant bug aiding an executed man with revenge on those that wronged him. It’s utterly ridiculous and the animation is disturbing, but it’s creative and well made.
- M is for Masticate from Robert Boocheck is perhaps the greatest segment of them all (and one you’ve likely seen replayed in the trailers). It’s all rather simple, a large hairy man in his underoos runs screaming down the street in slow motion, searching for someone to eat. The ridiculousness of it all and the reveal of “why” he is doing this at the end is timely and gut-busting funny (in a “so wrong I’m laughing” sort of way).
- R is for Roulette from Marvin Kren is filmed in black and white, artfully crafted, and definitely disturbing. Three people play Russian roulette in a basement while something sinister awaits them upstairs.
- U is for Utopia from Vincenzo Natali centers on your “average guy” in a shopping center full of very attractive people who is singled out in this “perfect” society in the worst way imaginable. It’s short, bizarre, and has some nice effects.
- W is for Wish from Steven Kostanski is likely my 2nd favorite segment, as it perfectly captures every 80’s kids’ favorite toy and game TV commercial memories into one sadistic little short film. The child actors are spot-on, the visual “look” of the piece really echoes the time period, and the resulting Horror twist is very clever.
- Z is for Zygote from Chris Nash is another rather brilliant segment involving a rural pregnant woman who manages to keep her baby gestating and growing inside her for 13 years. It’s extremely well made, utterly disgusting in every respect, and features an ending that sticks with you. Great stuff!
- C is for Capital Punishment from Julian Gilbey leaves a bad taste in your mouth, especially given recent events in the real-world. A man is amateurishly beheaded in the woods after he has been found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit. I’m sure the filmmakers’ didn’t intend to echo actual events, but it comes off as being in bad taste. I’m also not sure what the point was plot-wise with this one.
- F is for Falling from Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado about an Israeli woman’s parachute becoming stuck in a tree in Palestinian territory is also offensive and in poor taste (in my opinion at least). Maybe some find the cleverness in these more politically themed segments, but I personally enjoy my Horror best when it’s not connected to real-life pain and suffering.
- S is for Split from Juan Martinez Moreno is admittedly well-filmed in several split-screen moments as a horrified husband has to stay on the phone with his wife as an intruder breaks into their home. Unfortunately, the death of an infant in brutal fashion is an automatic deal breaker for me. It’s the Father in me speaking and yes, I realize this is fiction, but it’s completely unnecessary and sadistic. The subsequent “reveal” at the end of this segment didn’t offend me as it did others, but I think it’s safe to say that these filmmakers were going for the “how many people can we offend” goal, which frankly isn’t Horror and strikes too close to home for some.
- X is for Xylophone from Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo is again, from a parent’s perspective, not funny and downright cruel. I understand the tone these filmmakers were going for but it honestly made me queasy. Maybe they would say that they did their job. Personally, my taste for Horror sits much better with the stylish and suspenseful spectrum than the gory and plotless.
- Segments that weren’t mentioned above were likely just middle-of-the-road and didn’t impress or offend me enough to write about. Though I obviously had a bone to pick with a handful of segments, I would say that ABC’s of Death 2 far outshines its predecessor in nearly every way. The majority of segments are clever and some even brilliant, making for some great Anthology-Horror fun.
Each segment was filmed and transferred via High Definition, and generally, they all look great on Blu-Ray. Each Director’s style and choice of filters and enhancements effects the segments accordingly, such as the stop-motion grittiness and imperfect look of D is for Deloused or the aforementioned nostalgic 80’s commercial vibe that W is for Wish has going for it. No complaints here folks, the video looks great with plenty of clarity and definition across the board.
The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track works well, and differs accordingly in power/nuances for each segment. While I wouldn’t say that this particular track as a whole is demo-worthy, dialogue and sound effects always come through clean and clear.
Magnet Releasing has provided fans of ABC’s of Death 2 with a vast array of bonus features to accompany this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Filmmaker’s Commentary- Several of the filmmakers involved in each segment, along with Ant Timson and Tim League, give their individual takes and unique commentary for their respective pieces. Worth listening to especially for the K is for Knell segment where the filmmakers offer up a unique retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Bells.
- Individual Segment Bonus Content- Listing out each individual bonus feature for the segments would take ages, so just know that there are is endless array of bonus featurettes, making-of’s, special effects segments, and production stills and galleries to accompany select Alphabet shorts.
- AXS TV: A Look at The ABC’s of Death 2– The Directors of A, E, & M (not in that specific order) discuss their respective segments in this featurette which lasts just over 2 minutes.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Magnet Releasing features some stylish cover art focusing on the grim reaper angel figure who has become the mascot of sorts for the series. I appreciate the font and style utilized in the film’s title as well. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a brief plot synopsis, a list of bonus features, and technical specifications. On the interior of the packaging you’ll find the Blu-Ray disc, which mimics the cover art for the case, packaged in an eco-friendly design. I do need to mention that I personally adored the book-version of the first film’s release that Drafthouse had available exclusively on their site, and would have loved to see a follow-up book/Blu-Ray release for this one.
Anthology Horror films have long been a favorite staple of the genre for me, and though the first installment left me wanting more, ABC’s of Death 2 more than makes up for its predecessor with the majority of its 26 shorts ranging from brilliantly clever to memorable. There are a handful of segments that offended me, but I suppose that was the point. This Blu-Ray edition from Magnet Releasing features outstanding video and decent audio, not to mention an endless array of bonus features catered to individual segments. While it does have its share of duds, The ABC’s of Death 2 is an anthology piece that I will revisit again. Recommended.