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- 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- Dracula Untold
Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Street Date: February 3rd 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
Ever since my father introduced me to Universal’s 1931 Dracula (starring the legendary Bela Lugosi), I have been enthralled by the undead romanticism of Bram Stoker’s iconic vampire. There is an eternal enchantment the original film leaves with the viewer, begging to be watched time and time again. Other iterations of the source material have proved successful and enjoyable as well, such as Hammer Films’ series starring the commanding Christopher Lee, as well as Universal’s 1979 reboot starring Frank Langella. In addition, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 screen version of the novel exhibited wonderful special effects, fine performances, and beautifully gothic set design.
As you may be able to discern, in my eyes, Dracula has had a pretty good track record on the big screen. It was with that mindset that I walked into Universal’s latest reboot Dracula Untold with an open mind. Unfortunately, this film has to be one of the most ridiculously awful adaptations of the character that one will ever witness.
In Dracula Untold, Luke Evans portrays Vlad the Impaler (Vlad III Tepes), the reigning Prince of Transylvania who once was a child slave and subsequent legendary warrior of the Turkish Empire. Vlad now enjoys a relatively simple life with his beautiful wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and kindhearted son Ingeras (Art Parkinson), but worries that the Turks may someday call upon him to fight again. Soon Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), his once childhood friend and current ruler of the Turks, orders 1,000 Transylvanian boys to fight alongside his armies. Vlad’s dedication to his people, knowledge of the life of enslavement, and love for his son moves him enough to refuse Mehmed’s orders, beginning a war where Vlad’s people are far outnumbered. Fearing for his people and the safety of his family, Vlad ventures onto a nearby mountain to seek out the Master Vampire (Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance), the only man who can give him the power of 1,000 men and the curse of eternal life.
The problems with the film are numerous, and it’s a shame, because with a different script entirely, Luke Evans would have made a fabulous Dracula. In fact, his portrayal given the material is quite good. The problem lies within the execution of the film entirely, and makes one wonder why the filmmaker’s thought that Dracula’s backstory was the most interesting aspect of the iconic literary figure. The medieval European setting serves as a backdrop for numerous epic clashes between Dracula and the Turks, echoing Lord of the Rings or Excalibur more than anything associated with Bram Stoker’s creation.
With that being said, the first half of the film is somewhat watchable, but I kept waiting for the filmmakers to jump forward a few hundred years to Carfax Abby. Sadly that moment never happens. Instead the remaining time is filled with cringe-inducing dialogue, utterly predictable plot turns, and battles that offer little to wow the viewer. Dracula Untold is the definition of miscalculation, a film that shows little respect to the source material and assumes that the audience cared to see a feature length origin story of a character that is far more interesting in a more modern setting.
Though I obviously didn’t care for the film itself, this Blu-Ray edition from Universal Pictures features outstanding video quality with deep black levels, plenty of impressive clarity and fine object detail, and a stylized color scheme that looks gorgeous in High Definition.
Same goes for the 5.1 DTS-HD audio track, which regularly balances dialogue, the clang and clash of swordplay, and the score from with precision and power, making for a wonderful home audio experience.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has provided fans of Dracula Untold with a nice array of bonus features to accompany this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Commentary- Director Gary Shore and Production Designer Francois Audouy sit down to discuss the film in depth. I appreciate their dedication to various aspects of the film (costumes, design, etc.), but would have loved to hear more of the “why” behind their decision involving the origins of this character.
- Luke Evans: Creating a Legend- This nearly 20 minute featurette has Luke Evans discussing various scenes from the film. As I stated in my review above, I thought Mr. Evans’ portrayal of Dracula was fine, but would have been better served with a different storyline in tow. Hopefully any potential sequel will allow him to sink his fangs into a more traditional version of Stoker’s tale.
- Alternate Opening- A romantic alternate opening to the film, which would have provided slightly more insight into the love between Vlad and Mirena.
- Deleted Scenes- Roughly 13 minutes worth of deleted scenes from the film. I’m not sure their inclusion would have made it any better, but fans of the film may find these interesting.
- Day in the Life: Luke Evans- Nearly ten minutes of Luke Evan’s days on set, from the actor prepping in the early morning to discussing various aspects of the story on set.
- Dracula Retold- Some insight into the history behind the film.
- Slaying 1,000- A roughly 5-minute behind-the-scenes look at the first battle of the film, where Luke Evans takes on the army of Turks storming Castle Dracula.
- The Land of Dracula- An interactive map that includes various short featurettes on specific locations utilized in the film.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Universal Studios Home Entertainment features a nice glossy finish, embossed title, and the theatrical poster art featuring Evans’ Dracula in battle mode. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a brief plot synopsis, a list of bonus features, technical specifications, and details regarding the Blu-Ray exclusives featured on this release. On the interior of the packaging are two fairly plain discs for the Blu-Ray and DVD as well as the Ultraviolet Digital Copy Code insert. Collectors may want to note that Walmart will be selling a Steelbook exclusive edition with some fancier artwork.
Dracula Untold is a ridiculous venture into the origin story of Bram Stoker’s iconic character that pays little respect to the source material, offering up cringe-inducing dialogue, tired and bloated battle scenes, and predictable plot turns that do little to aid this gross miscalculation. The good news here is that the Blu-Ray from Universal Studios Home Entertainment features a very solid video and audio presentation along with some decent special features. If you somehow enjoy this unnecessary and cheap exploration of a character that is much more interesting in modern times, the technical specifications and features will be a bonus to your purchase. Personally, I need a Lugosi and Lee marathon to rid my mouth of the awful taste that Dracula Untold left me with. Skip this one, at all costs.