Blu-Ray Review- Lake Placid
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: July 8th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 82 Minutes
The creature feature subgenre of Horror has always fascinated and terrified me, specifically, the aquatic monsters featured in movies like Creature from the Black Lagoon, Jaws, Piranha, and many more. The thought of being attacked from beneath, unable to scream, run, or even hear your attacker coming, gives me nightmares. I feel safe and secure swimming at the lake that surrounds my family cabin, but to this day, I’m more than a little edgy going into the ocean. In 1999, television writer David E. Kelly and Director Steve Miner teamed up to release Lake Placid, which works as both a modern day take on creature feature concept and a witty homage to B-movie cinema.
In the film, Paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) is reluctantly sent to Black Lake, Maine to assist in the investigation of a Fish and Game officer who was bitten in half by an unseen creature from beneath the water. Once there, she joins local Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson) and Fish and Game Officer Jack Wells (Bill Pullman). They’re an odd crew to say the least, and tempers flare even more when egotistical Professor of Mythology Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt) joins the search for the mysterious creature.
After a series of lethal encounters, including an overturned canoe, a severed toe, and the decapitation death of one of their crew, the team discovers that the creature they’re dealing with is a prehistoric 30-foot crocodile. And as it turns out, foul-mouthed lake resident Delores Bickerman (Betty White) knows more than she initially let on about this killer croc’s origins and feeding habits. As the bodies pile up, the team has to find a way to capture or kill this ancient behemoth to assure that the local community can be safe once more.
As always, I hesitate to say too much more about the plot of Lake Placid and let you enjoy this fun film for yourselves. Believe it or not, the main draw of the film (and repeat watch factor) is the witty and creative dialogue from screenwriter David E. Kelly. The dialogue is consistently fresh and playful, and the humor is very dark and fitting. Lake Placid plays more like a tribute or homage to the B-movie creature features of yesteryear than a straight horror film, but offers plenty of unique kills and bloodshed for those that require it. The characters are extremely well written, and in turn, creatively played by the cast involved, which is something unique for a film of this genre. I really enjoyed revisiting Lake Placid after all these years, and it’s the perfect summer entertainment for horror fans.
Fans of Lake Placid can rest assured that the film looks great in High Definition. Some of Scream Factory’s abundant admirers seemed worried that this transfer might be plagued with some of the picture quality issues that their most recent license from Fox (Ravenous) displayed. There is no reason for concern here, and point of fact, this is a strong video presentation. Film grain looks natural and authentic, and textures and fine object detail in clothing, crocodile scales, and the surrounding woods of the lake is very clear. Colors are also accurately reproduced here, with the golden-hued and forest green color scheme really coming to life. There are no signs of digital noise reduction, and the print is relatively free of artifacts or scratches, making for a fantastic video presentation.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track featured here represents the film well on Blu-Ray. Dialogue, music, and sound effects are all equally balanced across your home entertainment system in a surprisingly dynamic presentation. From the larger scale action scenes (crocodile chomps, boat motors, helicopter blades) to the films quieter moments (birds chirping, crickets on the lake), this audio presentation is respectful to the source and enhances this fun B-movie for home viewing.
Scream Factory has given fans of Lake Placid the deluxe treatment on this brand new Blu-Ray edition. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- The Making of Lake Placid– This brand new HD documentary runs over thirty minutes and features interviews with the likes of Actor Bill Pullman, Director Steve Miner, Editor Marshall Harvey, Cinematographer Daryn Okada, and many more. The cast and crew discuss David Kelly’s witty script, the blend of animatronics and CGI used to bring the crocodile to life, the enormous water tank used in production, Betty White’s time on the set, and other fun details from filming. I especially enjoyed the story that Nick Marra (effects supervisor) told about the grizzly bear being scared of the animatronic crocodile. This is another standout job from Scream Factory and crew.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer is presented in standard definition and runs just under two minutes. This is a classic 90’s preview, with the “smoky” tone voiceover and recycled climactic music from Aliens, and offered theatrical audiences a good taste of the humor and mayhem from the film.
- Featurette- This featurette includes what appears to be carried over interview footage from the previous Fox DVD release that has been edited together with film footage from the new high definition transfer. It runs a little over five minutes, and is presented in standard definition.
- TV Spots- Roughly a minute and a half of television promos for Lake Placid that ran during the original theatrical campaign for the film. Like the aforementioned trailer, these little clips help establish the fun and campy nature of the film.
- Croc Test Footage- This is over seven minutes of camcorder footage (no audio) from the filming during the summer of 1998. Just a few test shots from the animatronic designers to make sure the mouth, nostrils, and eyes were working on the crocodile.
- Behind the Scenes Gallery- Over five minutes of fun behind-the-scenes photos and production stills from the making of the film. I especially enjoyed seeing the various camera rigs and mechanical elements used to make the crocodile come to life.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory includes newly commissioned artwork from artist Robert O’Brien. I love the postcard style utilized here, and really appreciate the minimalist approach that really evokes terror. It’s clean, simple, and uncluttered. On the reverse of the slipcover you’ll find a plot synopsis, production stills, a list of special features, and the technical specifications for this release. On the inside of the packaging, you’ll find the Blu-Ray disc with some nice artwork, and a reversible slip-sheet featuring the original theatrical poster design for the film. Very well done!
If you’re like me, and “creature feature” horror is your thing, you’ll get a kick out of Lake Placid. This self-aware B movie homage is well written, funny, and offers up more than a few “light” scares. It’s a shame that most of the subgenre films today are relegated to television films, because Lake Placid demonstrates how you can make a fun, campy, big-budget creature feature that is a hit with audiences and (most) critics alike. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features an outstanding video presentation with authentic film grain and natural colors, and an audio presentation with a surprisingly dynamic range. Special Features are top notch as well here, especially the brand new documentary made for this release. All in all, this might just be my favorite release from Scream Factory’s “Summer of Fear” thus far. Lake Placid comes Highly Recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Joy Ride 3: Road Kill
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Street Date: June 17th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 96 Minutes
I actually enjoyed the first Joy Ride film when it was released. Sure, it was a knockoff of Duel, but the script from J.J. Abrams was fresh and fun, the performances were earnest for the genre, and the thrills were genuine. The direct-to-video sequel served as nothing more than shot-on-the-cheap cash-in entertainment, and unfortunately, Joy Ride 3: Road Kill is more of the same.
In the opening moments of the film, a crack-addicted couple devises a plan to rob a random trucker of their imagined “stash” by having the female invite them over via CB radio. When the trucker shows up, of course, it’s none other than Rusty Nail. In one of the few thrilling sequences in the film, Rusty chains the couple to the hood of his semi, informing them that all they have to do is survive one mile of his driving, and not only will he let them go, but he’ll reward them with some of his “stash.” It’s a shame that this intense scene ends so unbelievably that viewers will be left shaking their head.
The story picks up with a group of young street-racers and their girlfriends embarking on a cross-country road trip to the Road Rally 1000. On their way they encounter Rusty Nail and his sinister semi, challenging him to some high-speed hijinks, not knowing whom they’re dealing with. As is typical with the genre, our maniac trucker hunts the crew down, providing for plenty of gore and mayhem. The main bulk of the plot centers on the lead getting his kidnapped girlfriend back from the clutches of Rusty Nail.
I will fully admit that die-hard fans of the series will enjoy this film’s genuine practical gore effects, cheesy one-liners from Rusty Nail, and well choreographed “kill” scenes. Between a semi-fan dicing up a face, chains squeezing someone to death, and multiple vehicular related accidents, there is plenty to cringe at. But this just isn’t my type of Horror film at the end of the day. The script is severely lacking, and even though the genre doesn’t command a David Mamet type treatment for the film, the dialogue could have used some polishing. Ken Kirzinger does a fine job playing the villain here, and we get to see more of the character than we did in previous outings. Though Joy Ride 3 will likely please the fan-base, for me, it seemed repetitive and unoriginal in its execution.
Though I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the film itself, there is no denying that 20th Century Fox has provided a stellar transfer of Joy Ride 3. Black levels are deep and inky, the golden-hued color scheme remains intact and consistent, and fine object detail is near perfect, providing for a great visual experience in High Definition.
The engineers at 20th Century Fox have provided a fantastic 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track for Joy Ride 3. The car chases, stunts, engine growls, blood splatter, and dialogue all come through with pristine clarity on this HD track. If you’re a fan of the series, you won’t be disappointed here, as this disc will give your channels a workout.
20th Century Fox has given fans of the Joy Ride series some fun bonus features for this Blu-Ray release! Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Riding Shotgun with Declan: Director’s Die-aries– Running over nine minutes, this featurette comes in four parts, each documenting a day in the production of Joy Ride 3. The crew clearly had a lot of fun making the film, and we get to see storyboards, makeup effects, and action sequences being setup for the film.
- Jewel’s Message- Running just over a minute, this is Jewel’s videotaped message from the film. I’m baffled as to why it is presented as a special feature here.
- Road Rage: The Blood, Sweat and Gears of Joy Ride 3– This one runs nearly twelve minutes and details the making of the film. The Director states that he wanted to make a hybrid between the previous Joyride films and The Fast and the Furious series. I enjoyed seeing Ken Kirzinger discuss his role as Rusty Nail this time around, as well as how many fans sought him out on the set as fans of his Jason Voorhees portrayal in that franchise. There are some fun makeup effects sequences, and it’s fun to see some practical effects utilized during the production of this film.
- Deleted Scenes- Almost six minutes of deleted scenes, all presented in High Definition with final score and background music. There’s a scene at a gas station, characters changing a tire, and two police officers discussing the events. All of these scenes were indeed, better left on the cutting room floor.
- Pre-Vis Sequences- Declan O’Brien discusses a pre-visualization sequence featuring a car chase from the film, having been inspired by Robert Rodriguez’ “Film School” series. Declan purchased various toy trucks and cars to pre-visualize one of the car chases, filmed it, and we get to see it placed side-by-side with the final scenes from the film.
- Finding Large Marge- This is a nearly four minute featurette on how Director Declan O’Brien found Heather Hueging, the actress who played the throwback character of Large Marge from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.
- Commentary by Declan O’Brien- Director O’Brien clearly enjoys the genre, and this commentary is a relatively easy listen. He details the making of certain scenes, editing choices for the final film, and how he paid homage to various films and horror concepts.
- Sneak Peek- This section of the special features provides previews for the following titles from 20th Century Fox: Devil’s Due, Out of the Furnace, In the Name of the King 3: The Last Mission, 3 Days to Kill, Bad Ass 2: Bad Asses, The Bridge: Season 1, and Wilfred Season 3.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from 20th Century Fox features Rusty Nail’s murderous semi-truck, with a smoky skull enhanced over the grill. The reverse of the packaging features a plot synopsis for the film, along with a listing of the special features, and technical specifications. On the inside of the case you’ll find the Blu-Ray and DVD discs featuring artwork similar to the cover design, a digital HD copy code, and an advertisement flyer for more Horror titles from 20th Century Fox. This particular edition is a Limited set with the “Killer Packaging” cardboard insert with alternate artwork for the film. The insert is glued onto the outside plastic wrap, so be careful when you’re opening the set if you don’t want to damage it.
Though I enjoyed the first Joy Ride film for mindless Horror entertainment, the subsequent direct-to-video sequels have been the epitome of shot-on-the-cheap cash-in cinema. Joy Ride 3: Road Kill features more of the same, though it does showcase some unique “kills” and practical gore effects. The good news is that 20th Century Fox has done a wonderful job transferring the film to Blu-Ray, with picture quality that retains the gritty golden-hued intentions of the filmmakers. The audio track is equally as impressive here, especially with the dynamic range on display during the car chase sequences. Special Features are loaded, but are mostly short, unnecessary featurettes that act as filler for the disc. This is rental material for me, only recommended for die-hard fans of the series.
Blu-Ray Review- Countess Dracula
Distributor: Synapse Films
Street Date: May 6th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, Color, 1.66:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
In 1971, Hammer Films took a chance on producing Countess Dracula, their fictional take on the very real story of Elizabeth Bathory (Elizabeth Nadasdy in the film), who is often referred to as the most prolific female serial killer in history. Born into a noble Hungarian family, the real Elizabeth was said to use her power and deception to lure innocent villagers into the castle, torture them for days, and eventually kill and dispose of their bodies. Depending on what story you read, the number of Bathory’s victims range anywhere from 30-600 women, as a precise number was never established. What is more than likely the truth of the matter is that the legends of Elizabeth Bathory (such as bathing in her victims blood to stay young) far outweigh the facts. It makes for a fascinating Horror story, a fact that Hammer Films knew well enough to produce Countess Dracula, a different kind of macabre tale for them after many repetitive outings featuring Frankenstein, The Mummy, and the Count himself.
Countess Dracula begins with the funeral of Count Nadasdy, who has left little fortune to his wife Elizabeth (Ingrid Pitt) in his will. She is a crude, hateful old woman, who punishes her handmaidens for the slightest perceived misdeed. The funeral has also brought Lieutenant Imre Toth (Sandor Eles) to the family castle, a young friend of the late Count who Elizabeth is instantly taken with. After discovering the youthful effect that young blood has on her appearance, Elizabeth kills a female servant, bathes in her blood, and becomes youthful and beautiful once more. Conspiring with her faithful steward Dobi (Nigel Green), she hides her newly arrived daughter Llona away, fooling everyone into thinking that she is in fact, her own daughter. Elizabeth’s youthful appearance aids her in seducing Lieutenant Toth, but at a price, as more victims have to be sacrificed for Elizabeth to maintain this façade, and the castle historian begins to suspect something sinister is brewing.
Revisiting Countess Dracula was an absolute treat. Ingrid Pitt is as breathtaking as ever, turning in one of her best performances. The gothic production design, polished cinematography, elegant costumes, and eerie music by Harry Robertson (incorrectly credited in the opening credits as Harry Robinson) just adds to the pleasure. This remains one of my personal favorite stand-alone films in the Hammer catalog.
The Blu-Ray presentation for Countess Dracula is about as impressive as it gets. It’s obvious that a lot of time and care went into making sure this High Definition release would impress Horror fans and Blu-Ray aficionados alike. Colors look accurate, scenery looks crisp and gorgeous, the wonderful costume design shows incredible detail and clarity, and the blood…the blood looks crimson red! The film grain has been kept intact and authentic throughout the restoration process, which is always appreciated! There is some slight damage to the print here and there, but these moments are few and far between, save for the occasional speckles. The lengths that Synapse has gone to in order to preserve this film is commendable, and it looks fantastic in High Definition.
The DTS-HD Mono track provided here is surprisingly powerful: regularly balancing dialogue, background sound effects, and Harry Robertson’s eerie score. It’s a bit jolting at first to hear so much power and balance from two channels. This is another standout area on this release.
Synapse Films has provided Horror fans with plenty of great special features to enjoy on this disc. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary- This commentary features actress Ingrid Pitt, Director Peter Sasdy, Screenwriter Jeremy Paul, and Author Jonathan Sothcott discussing nearly all aspects of production on Countess Dracula. Continuously engaging and fun, this is one of the more enjoyable commentaries I’ve experienced in some time.
- Countess Dracula Still Gallery- Roughly seven minutes of fantastic behind-the-scenes photos and production stills set to the brilliant piano score from the film. There are some really captivating pictures provided here, showcasing the elaborate costume and production design for the film.
- Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt– Running nearly eleven minutes, this featurette is extremely well made and showcases the career of the gorgeous and talented Ingrid Pitt. Several film scholars and noteworthy people contribute to telling her life story in brief, from the unimaginable horror she must have experienced spending the first few years of her life in a concentration camp, to her beginning acting career in film. I knew very little about Ingrid going into this, and came out knowing (and wanting to further research) so much more. It’s fascinating that she escaped Berlin by swimming across the river, being pulled out by a United States soldier, whom she would later marry. The featurette further discusses her roles in Where Eagles Dare, The Vampire Lovers, and finally, Countess Dracula. This is absolutely my favorite special feature on the set.
- Archival Audio Interview with Ingrid Pitt- Over eight minutes worth of audio featuring an interview with Ingrid Pitt. The audio is in rough shape, and a little hard to hear at times, but there are some interesting topics discussed including violence in film, her beginnings in Hollywood, and her Horror film roles.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for Countess Dracula is a lot of fun, with a great rhyming voiceover, gothic Hammer title cards, and like most older trailers, showcases a bit too much of the final film.
Synapse has crafted a beautiful looking release for Countess Dracula with artwork featuring the original theatrical poster for the film, with the “Hammer Horror Collection” banner at the top. The reverse features a plot synopsis for the film, a list of special features, and technical specifications. Inside you will find some beautiful (and naughty) reversible artwork as well as the Blu-Ray and DVD discs for the film.
Revisiting Countess Dracula was an absolute treat. Ingrid Pitt is as breathtaking as ever, turning in one of her best performances. The gothic production design, polished cinematography, elegant costumes, and eerie music by Harry Robertson just adds to the pleasure. Synapse Films has gone to great lengths to provide viewers with a beautiful restored print, surprisingly great sound quality, and a wealth of bonus material. The Immortal Countess featurette is a particular treat, providing viewers with a look at Ingrid Pitt’s beautiful life and legacy. This Blu-Ray release receives my Highest Recommendation.
Blu-Ray Review- Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
Street Date: April 8th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese
Runtime(s): Theatrical: 84 Minutes, Extended: 101 Minutes
The original Paranormal Activity was released in 2009 on a budget of fifteen thousand dollars, and subsequently made over two hundred million dollars at the box office. The found footage genre was nothing new, but Writer/Director Oren Peli was able to inject some life and technical ingenuity into the concept. While this sort of Horror series is not my personal cup of tea, I will admit that I thought the first film was both scary and entertaining as far as the found footage concept goes.
Fast-forward to 2014, and we’ve had multiple sequels in the franchise, every one of them making an incredible amount of money on very small budgets (though the total haul has decreased significantly over time). Unfortunately, like most studio cash-in’s, by the fourth film the series had become repetitive, silly, parody-fuel material.
The Marked Ones begins with our main character Jesse graduating from Lincoln High School, Class of 2012. His vast family and friends celebrate throughout the night, and we get the obligatory strange neighbor conversation regarding Ana, a young girl who lives directly under Jesse’s apartment. Odd noises and wailing are regularly heard but dismissed by neighbors in the complex. Jesse and his friend Victor’s curiosity gets the best of them as they use their newly acquired Go Pro camera to spy on Ana through the floor vent. Witnessing a strange ritual occur, they shrug it off for the most part until Ana winds up dead. After exploring Ana’s seemingly empty apartment late one night, Jesse winds up with superhuman abilities, and a strange mark on his forearm.
Like most movie characters with newly acquired powers, Jesse revels in exploring his abilities: floating in mid-air, increased strength, and even more confidence with the ladies. But this blessing quickly turns into a curse, as Jesse’s body begins to slowly change into something sinister. To avoid spoiling any fun for you, I’ll leave my synopsis at that.
While Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones does not break any new ground in the realm of horror (not even close), it’s certainly more watchable and unique from the films in this franchise that preceded it. The mystery surrounding the witchcraft and occult aspects of the story consistently drew me in, at least up until the last ten minutes where the filmmakers clearly had a hard time deciding how to conclude their tale. The ending of this film makes no sense at all, and really took me out of an otherwise decent entry in the series. While there are definitely some enjoyable elements to The Marked Ones, this is a rental recommendation at best.
This type of film is always a bit difficult to judge when it comes to picture quality, simply because it looks rather terrible, but it’s supposed to. This is not some brand new polished studio epic to behold in High Definition. This is a grainy, rough, soft-looking, digital noise laden transfer. But again, this is how it looked in theaters, and represents the filmmaker’s vision. When you take into account, Paramount has done a great job in staying true to the source material and replicating the original theatrical presentation for this High Definition release.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track offered here by Paramount is, again, faithful to the source material. This track will definitely not rattle the floors, wake the neighbors, or send the dog into a fit. The 5.1 channels, while never utilized to their fullest, support dialogue and increasingly disturbing sound effects very well for what it’s worth. Like most of the films in the franchise, audio becomes more important and significant as the movie progresses, and by the end of the track, you will feel as if the audio experience was well replicated for home viewing.
Paramount Home Entertainment offers up only one special feature for this Blu-Ray release. Titled “Found Footage”, the segment features multiple short deleted scenes that were left on the cutting room floor during the editing process. You can choose to ‘play all’, or watch the scenes individually. Specific deleted scenes include: Grandma’s rant (in Spanish), Cleaning Out Ana’s Apartment, Chavo growling at the closet, Jesse on ledge of Church after party, Possessed SIMON, Religious shop/Irma cleanses Jesse and apartment, and finally MEUS in Jesse’s room.
The entire segment runs roughly ten minutes, with the religious shop/Irma cleansing section taking up nearly half of that time. Though the scenes are interesting to watch, I’m not sure that they would have added anything significant had they been included in the final film. I would have enjoyed seeing a making-of documentary or even a short featurette included on this release, especially to give the filmmakers the opportunity to discuss their unique direction for this spin-off series.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray Combo Pack from Paramount Pictures comes with a nice lenticular slipcover, an Ultraviolet Digital Copy Code, and plain blue disc art with the title of the film. The reverse side of the Ultraviolet code features promos for the previous Paranormal Activity Blu-Ray releases.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, while nothing groundbreaking, is definitely a step in the right direction for this franchise. I like the idea of further entries in the series being spin-off films rather than direct sequels to the tired storyline from the original. If it weren’t for the jumbled and confusing ending to the film, I might be recommending more than just a rental for the casual horror fan. Regarding the Blu-Ray release, the video and audio quality remain authentic to the filmmaker’s intentions, but the special features are lacking with only a handful of deleted scenes. Unless you’re a hardcore fan of the franchise, you may want to rent this one first.