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- The Battery
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: September 16th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 100 Minutes
Just when you thought the Zombie subgenre couldn’t possibly have anything else original to offer, along comes The Battery. Filmed in just 15 days on a shoestring budget, unlike many independent horror films, The Battery doesn’t look or feel “cheap.” In fact, the film features surprisingly stunning cinematography and fine performances from filmmakers/actors Jeremy Gardner and Adam Cronheim.
In The Battery, we meet Ben (Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), two former baseball player buddies just trying to survive the day to day hopelessness and despair that is the zombie apocalypse. Ben is the more resourceful and useful of the two, having learned the skills he needs to survive (killing zombies, fishing, etc.), while Mickey would rather sit around listening to music on his headphones and killing time scratching off useless lottery tickets. Mickey wants to sleep indoors where he feels they will be safer from the zombie hordes, while Ben opposes this idea, feeling they are safer when they’re constantly moving and able to easily escape their surroundings. The film is not structured in your typical fashion, with its non-linear narrative focusing more on the relationship between the Ben and Mickey than any specific events that occur. They laugh and joke, they argue, they fight, and makeup. This is what friends do, after all. Even the events that do occur during the film, such as the prospect of joining other survivors they come in contact with over walkie-talkie’s, is more of a source for conflict between friends than a crucial “tipping point” in the plotline.
Having said that, it kind of goes without saying that The Battery is not your typical Zombie film, or Horror film for that matter, but it’s a surprisingly enjoyable and unique film in the genre. I hope typical Horror fans that are looking for relentless action, zombie guts, and hordes of undead mayhem are able to look deeper, and enjoy this thoughtful little gem. The chemistry between Gardner and Cronheim is what makes The Battery so special, allowing for significant exploration of the friendship dynamic set against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. There are also some incredibly funny moments that occur, I mean where else are you going to see someone masturbate to a zombie? Did I mention the music is insanely good? It’s just another reason to sit down with a cold one and enjoy what’s in store between Ben and Mickey. This is a fine film, and I’m glad Scream Factory has unleashed it to the masses as part of their ever-growing collection of the macabre treats of celluloid.
Even given the budgetary constraints, this is a fine looking transfer from Scream Factory. Colors are bright and bold, highlighting the lush green grass and hot summer days in which the film takes place. The film has a gritty and often intentionally unfocused look to it, which comes across beautifully in High Definition. Detail is especially clear, with facial features and foreground objects exhibiting a very lifelike presence. This is a solid presentation of the film for the format.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is fairly good, delivering a dialogue heavy presentation without any anomalies to speak of throughout. This isn’t going to put your system to the test or wake the neighbors, but it’s especially well balanced where it needs to be, with the subtle background noises of the wilderness and occasional gunfire and splatter effects coming through clean and clear.
Scream Factory has provided fans of The Battery with an array of bonus material for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary– Jeremy Gardner (writer, director, actor), Adam Cronheim (producer, actor), and Christian Stella (Director of Photography) discuss the film in great length here, with hardly any silent spots throughout this audio commentary. If you’ve already watched the Tools of Ignorance documentary, much of this is rehashed, not that it hurts. These guys are very fun to listen to and hearing about their adventure making this film is worthwhile.
- Tools of Ignorance: The Making of The Battery– O. hannah films provides a documentary piece that is pretty much the same length as the film itself. The cast and crew is really likeable, and this documentary sheds light on the early days of the filmmakers including their first short film efforts, writing and financing The Battery, and much more. These guys truly made their dreams come true, and their heart is in the right place. Great stuff!
- Trailer- The original theatrical trailer runs almost exactly 2 minutes and features a fun soundtrack for the film, highlighting some of the unique camera setups, and the unique direction the crew decided to take with this indie Horror offering.
- Outtakes- Nearly 12 minutes of outtakes from the film. Lots of random test shots, goofs, and production footage from behind the scenes of the film.
- Rock Plaza Central at the Parlor- Running nearly 11 minutes, this short featurette has O. hannah films spending a weekend with Rock Plaza Central’s Chris Eaton and Don Murray as they rehearsed to play live for the first time in several years. They make sandwiches, play acoustic guitar in the kitchen, among other things. This is some beautifully shot raw footage of the band practicing.
- More from Scream Factory– Original theatrical trailers for other modern titles from the Scream Factory catalog including: Beneath, Dead Shadows, and Chilling Visions: Five Senses of Fear.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features newly-commissioned artwork from artist RP “Kung Fu Bob” O’Brien, as well as reversible art that features the original theatrical poster design. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, production stills, a list of special features, and technical specifications. Inside the case is the Blu-Ray disc complete with more artwork (see photos below).
The Battery is not your typical Zombie film, or typical Horror film for that matter, but it’s a surprisingly enjoyable and unique entry in the genre. This is about friendship and the challenges that we face when things go awry in our lives, and less about gory zombie hordes ripping apart the masses. The chemistry between Gardner and Cronheim is what makes the film so special, allowing for significant exploration of the friendship dynamic set against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory exhibits a fine presentation of the great cinematography, with bright solid colors and fine object detail highlighting the transfer. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio highlights the dialogue and music well enough, while never necessarily pushing your home theater to the limits. The special features are once again well assembled and impressive, with a great documentary on the making of the film that is nearly as long as the movie itself. The Battery is a funny, dark, and inventive Horror entry that comes highly recommended for those of you willing to try something a little different. This is a fine film, and I’m glad Scream Factory has unleashed it to the masses as part of their ever-growing collection of the macabre treats of celluloid.
Blu-Ray Review- Pumpkinhead: Collector’s Edition
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: September 9th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 86 Minutes
“For each of man’s evils, a special demon exists. You’re looking at vengeance, cruel, devious, pure-as-venom vengeance.”
–Haggis in Pumpkinhead
Released into theaters in 1988, Pumpkinhead remains one of the late, great Stan Winston’s few directorial efforts. Inspired by a creepy poem by Ed Justin, the film received a mixed reaction upon its theatrical release, but thankfully went on to develop a fervent cult following over the years from die-hard fans of the film (myself included). Simply put, it’s one of the best modern day fairy tales with a dark horror twist, and not only features outstanding performances from everyone involved, but one of the scariest creature designs in Horror history.
The opening prologue set in 1957 instantly conjures goose-bumps as we’re introduced to Tom Harley, his wife, and son Ed. Ed watches in horror as his father, shotgun in hand, locks up the horses, bars the door to their home, and waits patiently for something to emerge from the darkness of the woods. Soon a desperate and terrified man is running away from an unseen monster, and begins to pound on the Harley’s door for help. Tom refuses, citing his obligation to protect his family. The monster brutally kills the man as young Ed watches from his bedroom window.
Fast forward to the present day, and Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) is all grown up, a father himself to his young son Billy. They live on the very same farm that his family has passed down through the years, and run the local Harley & Son Grocery store. They have a wonderful father-son relationship built around unconditional love, daily routines, and story time around the dinner table. One day while tending to the store, a group of dirt-bike racers and their girlfriends from out of town use the dirt paths in the nearby fields to stage some trick jumps for photographs. With Ed having to run back home to grab some feed he promised to a customer, young Billy is left to take care of the store with his dog in tow. When the dog escapes into the dirt-bike racing path, Billy gives chase, getting run over by a dirt bike, and eventually dies from his injuries. Most of the bikers leave the scene, afraid of the consequences that will likely follow.
Heartbroken over the death of his son, and filled with rage toward the bikers, Ed Harley visits a creepy old woman in the middle of the woods who is able to conjure the Pumpkinhead demon from his slumber. Once brought back to life, Pumpkinhead begins to slay the out-of-towners one by one. A guilt-ridden Ed, able to telepathically “experience” the carnage as it happens, moves past his hate and grief to help the young folks in a final battle against Pumpkinhead. That’s all I’m going to say about the film, as this is definitely one you’ll want to experience for yourself.
Revisiting Pumpkinhead on this brand new Blu-Ray edition was an absolute treat! Stan Winston’s direction is masterful, highlighting the Southern Gothic atmosphere with sweat-drenched sunshine and fog-filled moonlight, nearly every scene leaps off the page of a fairy tale. The acting is superb, especially from Lance Henriksen and Matthew Hurley, who truly make an impact on the viewers as we experience their happiness and eventual devastation. I loved the opening moments between father and son; such a touching relationship that enhances the audiences involvement in the terrifying events that follow. The creature design on Pumpkinhead itself remains impressive, and made me smile reminiscing about the good old days of animatronics and practical effects. This is a modern day Horror classic as far as I’m concerned.
As a lifelong fan of Pumpkinhead, my anticipation was high for this Blu-Ray release, and I can say without a doubt that this is the best the film has ever looked on home video. The color grading is especially impressive, with the summer days drenched in golden hues, and the moonlight blues of the humid nights on bold display. The natural film grain has been left intact, and there is an abundance of detail in facial features, clothing, and the slimy skin of Pumpkinhead itself. The transfer is very clean to boot, with artifacts or anomalies to report. As Horror fans, we couldn’t ask for anything more, Pumpkinhead looks great in High Definition!
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is another high point, with dialogue, Richard Stone’s creepy score, and background effects coming through clean and clear on your home theater system. There is a nice balance to everything presented, from the quiet, peaceful opening scenes on Ed and Billy’s property, to the frenetic terror and action of the finale, everything sounds great in High Definition audio.
Scream Factory has provided fans of Pumpkinhead with a fully-loaded Collector’s Edition featuring some truly fantastic bonus material for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary– Featuring co-screenwriter Gary Gerani, creature & F/X creators Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis, and filmmaker/moderator Scott Spiegel, this is one of the better audio commentaries I’ve heard in some time. There is never a dull moment here, the group is talkative, informative, and relate some fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the making of the film.
- Pumpkinhead: Unearthed- Split into several chapters and lasting over an hour, this documentary from Red Shirt Pictures and Scream Factory delves into all things Pumpkinhead: from original concepts and design, to screenwriting and Stan Winston’s involvement, and casting to special effects, it doesn’t get any better than this for Horror fans! We also get to hear from the cast including Cynthia Bain, Kerry Remsen, Brian Bremer, Florence Schauffler, and Lance Henriksen among others. I particularly enjoyed Brian Bemer reminiscing about having to do multiple takes because he couldn’t stop laughing when Pumpkinhead found him in the closet. Lance Henriksen also provides some fun stories relating to how he was able to get into his character, from obtaining fake teeth to buying his own props to enhance the realism, he’s always fun to listen to. The ad-libbed line regarding his Grandmother washing his hands is touching. It’s an in-depth and revealing look behind-the-scenes of the production, and the cast and crew share some delightful stories. Great stuff!
- Pumpkinhead: Behind the Scenes- Scream Factory has provided some fascinating footage from the making of the film, including Tom Woodruff Jr. testing out the costume design for the first time, molding and painting the various pieces in the workshop, and testing the final suit with mechanical elements in place. This one runs a little over 7 minutes.
- Night of the Demon (w/Richard Weinman)- This is an extended interview with Richard Weinman (who co-wrote the story) from Red Shirt Pictures. Richard provides us details on his involvement in the film, how the production came to fruition, and some more in-depth details, some that were previously discussed in the aforementioned Unearthed documentary. Runs about 17 minutes.
- The Redemption of Joel (w/John D’Aquino)- One thing is certain, John D’Aquino possesses an anti-aging potion that he needs to bottle, sell, and provide to the masses! The man looks great! This is yet another extended interview from Red Shirt Pictures featuring the actor detailing his involvement in the film, his character’s bad choice and resulting consequences, and much more.
- The Boy with the Glasses (w/Matthew Hurley)- This great extended interview runs about 14 ½ minutes and features Matthew Hurley, who played young Billy Harley in the film. This is probably my favorite featurette on the disc behind the Unearthed documentary. Matthew talks about how he got involved in the film, coming from a Christian background and being involved in a Horror movie, working with Lance Henriksen and Stan Winston, and much more. Billy is such a vital and important character in Pumpkinhead, and it was a treat to listen to Matthew discussing his role as a child actor.
- Demonic Toys- This short segment runs nearly five minutes and features sculptor Jean St. Jean discussing his work on the Pumpkinhead design. He talks issues involving the design itself, including weighing and balancing the different features to make the creature work on film.
- Remembering the Monster Kid: A Tribute to Stan Winston- Lasting nearly 50 minutes, this is another standout documentary from Aine Leicht and Scream Factory involving various industry professionals, actors, and other relevant people remembering Stan Winston and the legendary work he left behind. This is wonderfully edited together, informative, and fun. What a legend!
- Still Gallery- About 14 minutes of production stills from the film in High Definition.
- Theatrical Trailer- I love and miss seeing that U/A logo! The original theatrical trailer for the film gives viewers a fairly good idea of what they’re in for with Pumpkinhead. It’s creepy, intense, and showcases the wonderful cinematography well.
- More from Scream Factory- Vintage trailers for other Scream Factory titles including Motel Hell, Squirm, and Without Warning.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features newly-commissioned artwork from fan-favorite artist Justin Osbourn on the slip-cover. Simply put, this is one of my all-time favorite pieces of art from their collection. You have Pumpkinhead creeping over the scenery, Lance Henriksen ready for action with pitchfork in hand, and the pumpkin patch graveyard sprawled across the landscape. The coloring is perfect, and the detail is stunning, evoking the ideal atmosphere to accompany this release. On the reverse of the slip, you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills. Inside the case is the disc artwork as well as a reversible slip-sheet for those that prefer the original theatrical poster design. This is a hauntingly beautiful looking set!
Pumpkinhead is a modern day Horror classic as far as I’m concerned, and revisiting the film on this brand new Blu-Ray edition was an absolute treat! Stan Winston’s direction is masterful, highlighting the Southern Gothic atmosphere with sweat-drenched sunshine and fog-filled moonlight. The creature design is outstanding, and the father-son relationship between Lance Henriksen and Matthew Hurley feels so real in moments of happiness and devastation, making for a twisted fairy tale that comes to life on screen. The picture quality is superb, highlighting the golden summer hues and blue moonlight fog with exceptional clarity, and the HD audio is well balanced and effective. Once again, it’s in the special features department that Scream Factory knocks it out of the park with some truly fantastic documentaries and featurettes. Pumpkinhead kicks off Scream Factory’s Fall Frights in spectacular fashion, and comes highly recommended.