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- Starry Eyes
Distributor: Dark Sky Films/MPI Home Video
Street Date: February 3rd 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 96 Minutes
Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s Starry Eyes is a Cronenbergian Horror Fantasy centered on the dark side of Hollywood and the depths of despair one woman puts herself through to achieve stardom. It’s a haunting and unnerving fable with an incredible breakout performance from Alex Essoe, a brilliantly composed score from Jonathan Snipes, and plenty of chilling images and memorable gross-out moments that will be difficult to shake.
In the film, Alex Essoe plays Sarah, an aspiring actress who works at Big Taters (a clever Hooters-esque salute) by day and attends acting classes and auditions by night. Sarah lives with her roommate Tracy (Amanda Fuller), the only friend in her life that appears supportive of her aspirations in a group full of wannabe filmmakers and toxic females seeking to bring Sarah down with passive-aggressive commentary on her dream-seeking goals.
Sarah’s life seemingly changes for the better when she auditions for an upcoming Horror film titled The Silver Scream from Astraeus Pictures, but even when she completely nails the audition with a solid performance and complete line memorization, she fails to impress the casting directors. Fed up with her apparent failure, Sarah throws a messy, banshee-crying, hair-pulling fit in the bathroom of the building, only to be overheard by the female casting director, who invites her back to the audition room to have a similar meltdown.
Sarah receives a callback, and this time the casting directors want to film her naked on camera, and a subsequent callback allows her to meet the owner of Astraeus Pictures, but Sarah finally has had enough when he propositions her for the lead role in exchange for sexual favors. At first, Sarah is disgusted and repelled by the man, but soon believes that she has made a mistake and asks for a second chance at stardom, even if it involves degrading her self-worth. When Sarah awakens the next morning, she’s a changed woman, but not anywhere close to the way she expected. As Sarah begins to rot from the inside out, we learn the true intentions behind the sadistic folks at Astraeus Pictures.
I hesitate to say anything more about Starry Eyes and allow you, the prospective viewer, to enjoy it in all of its macabre glory. As a lover of classic Horror, I’m always a little skeptical going into modern day genre offerings, but the filmmakers behind Starry Eyes have crafted a truly eerie and methodically unnerving film that comes highly recommended. Alex Essoe, in particular, turns in a performance that is impressively raw and realistic (even in a fantasy scenario) and deserves every accolade she has received. Despite an ending that, in my opinion, goes a bit overboard with the gore for a film that had been stylishly creepy until that point, Starry Eyes is the first modern Horror film in some time that has captured both my attention and admiration.
This Blu-Ray edition from Dark Sky Films features a very strong video presentation with deep black levels, authentically gritty visuals respecting the theatrical source print, and no signs of digital scrubbing or unwanted artifacts. Well done!
The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track regularly balances dialogue, the wonderfully eerie musical score from Jonathan Snipes, and background sound design with ease, making for a terrific home audio experience. The score reminds me of some of John Carpenter’s wonderful soundtracks over the years, and sounds great in HD surround.
Dark Sky Films has provided fans of Starry Eyes with select bonus features to accompany this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Commentary- Writer/Director’s Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch along with Producer Travis Stevens sit down for this insightful commentary that offers behind-the-scenes anecdotes including how the concept and story came together, production locales and their intentions, and much more.
- Deleted Scenes- Some random deleted scenes that were definitely better left on the cutting room floor as they wouldn’t have added much to a picture that flows rather smoothly in the final product. There’s a scene with Sarah’s room shaking as she wakes up from a dream, Sarah driving with Tracy in her car, some party moments and drunken discussions, Sarah jogging, an extended audition callback, more jogging, Sarah leaving the Astraeus Pictures’ owner’s house, some extended vomiting and lip-pealing, and more.
- Jonathan Snipes Music Video- Not your typical music video, but some intercut scenes of Jonathan Snipes mixing the score on his computer along with footage from the film.
- Alex Essoe Audition Video- An impressive audition tape from Alex Essoe who seemed like a natural fit for the role right from the start.
- Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery- Nearly ten minutes of behind-the-scenes photos from the making of the film.
- Trailer- The theatrical trailer from the film.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Dark Sky Films features some creepy cover artwork that gives potential viewers just a hint of insight into the subject matter of the film. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a brief plot synopsis, along with a list of special features and technical specifications. The simple matte finish disc design mimics the cover of the Blu-Ray edition, and there is also some reversible artwork for those interested.
As a classic Horror aficionado, I’m always a little skeptical going into modern day genre offerings, but the filmmakers behind Starry Eyes have crafted a truly eerie and methodically unnerving film that comes highly recommended. This Cronenbergian Horror fantasy from Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer is a haunting and unnerving fable with an incredible breakout performance from Alex Essoe, a brilliantly composed score from Jonathan Snipes, and plenty of chilling images and memorable gross-out moments that will be difficult to shake. The Blu-Ray edition from Dark Sky Films features a very solid video and audio presentation along with some fun special features for fans of the film. Highly Recommended!
Blu-Ray Review- Annabelle
Distributor: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Street Date: January 20th 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 98 Minutes
When The Conjuring was released in 2013, it made me believe that quality modern day Horror films could still be made in this day and age. I’m a classic Horror fan…an admirer of everything from the Universal Monsters to Hammer Films and even the cheesy cult-classic slashers of the 80’s. But modern Horror has left me wanting so much more. Gone are the days of unsettling genre pictures filled with style and atmosphere that truly terrified audiences, and unfortunately, what we’ve been left with for the past twenty years would mostly fit into the “torture porn” category.
But James Wan crafted The Conjuring with grace and style, a motion picture filled with atmosphere, dedicated performances, and a throwback aura that mirrored that of the great Horror entries from the 1970’s (The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, etc.). When I heard that Warner Bros. planned to make a spin-off prequel featuring Annabelle (a doll expertly yet briefly utilized in The Conjuring), my hopes were high. Unfortunately without the assured direction of James Wan and a direct-to-video feel this time around, Annabelle fails to conjure up the scares of its predecessor.
In the film we meet Mia and John Form (Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton), a young married couple who have recently settled down in Santa Monica, California. The couple is expecting their first child soon as John makes his way through medical school and Mia tends to the house by day (this is the 1960’s after all). When the next door neighbors’ cult-member daughter returns home after running away years prior, she kills her parents and attacks the Form’s in the middle of the night, possessing the Annabelle doll before she dies in a hail of Police gunfire.
Sometime later Mia and John relocate to an apartment in Pasadena with their baby girl Leah, but the Annabelle doll that John discarded at their old house has somehow found its way into one of their moving boxes. As you would expect given her history, Annabelle and the demon that uses her as a conduit wreak havoc on the Form’s and their baby daughter. With the help of a local priest (Tony Amendola) and a bookstore employee with a tragic past (Alfre Woodard), Mia and John attempt to rid their home of this evil once and for all.
Annabelle is not without its share of jump-scares and creepy moments, but they are too few and far between for a film of this length, like clever architectural design choices on a building with a crumbling foundation. The story itself and the events that unfold are simply too familiar and borrowed from other, better films. The performances are all very earnest, especially from Annabelle Wallis and Alfre Woodard, but they fail to rescue the film from its sheer lack of originality. I do hope that with James Wan back in the director’s chair for the upcoming The Conjuring: The Enfield Poltergeist, we’ll get a stylish return back to feeling of the first film, as Annabelle unfortunately left me unfulfilled.
This Blu-Ray edition from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment features a very nice high definition video presentation with incredibly solid black levels, plenty of pristine fine object detail to behold, and a color palette that is pleasing to the eye. There isn’t a single instance of dirt, debris, or artifacts throughout, making for a very clean and strong presentation.
The 5.1 DTS-HD audio regularly balances dialogue, the creepy musical score, and background effects with ease, making for a terrific audio experience at home. The few jump scares the film has to offer are very effective on this surround track, and again, Warner Bros. has done a great job on the technical side of things.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has provided fans of Annabelle with some frightful bonus features to accompany this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- The Curse of Annabelle- Running about 5 ½ minutes, this short featurette focuses on the inception of this spin-off entry and the true story that inspired both films featuring the now-famous Annabelle doll that currently resides in the Warren Occult museum. Cast and crew discuss their fascination with Ed and Lorraine Warren’s careers, as well as some spooky shenanigans that happened behind-the-scenes of the film.
- Bloody Tears of Possession- This one also runs about 5 ½ minutes and details the cinematography and camera work involved in the making of the film. Much is discussed about trying to capture a suspenseful atmosphere with innovative camerawork and a particularly long-shot during the initial assault on the Form’s house in Santa Monica.
- Dolls of the Demon- This featurette runs just over 4 minutes and centers on the Annabelle doll herself, along with some discussion about various dolls in Horror cinema and their seemingly innocent nature that somehow brings the goose-bumps.
- A Demonic Process- Another nearly 5 minute featurette that focuses on the demon of the film and his gargoyle-esque look from the folks at KNB effects. The composer for the film (Joseph Bishara), who has also played the demons in both Insidious films and The Conjuring, also plays the demon here. We get some footage of the sculpting and makeup application process which is pretty fun.
- Deleted Scenes- Included here are 8 different scenes that were deleted from the film including: Meet Fuller the Landlord, Baby Bath/Fuller Fixes the Sink, Bugs in a Bottle, Infestation, Attack, Scratches & Father Perez’s arrival, Mia Wakes Up, and Demonic Kidnapping/Carnage. Everything is presented in High Definition and has final music/editing cues in place, leading us to believe that these scenes were excised at the last minute. Some of the cut scenes are surprisingly effective, and others involving a creepy landlord and bugs in the baby’s bottle were definitely better left on the cutting room floor.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray combo pack edition from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment features artwork that mimics the theatrical poster campaign with Annabelle herself on the slipcover. It’s an effective tease for the film, but I do wish that Warner Bros. had made it a lenticular one to pair nicely with their awesome lenticular “clap” cover for The Conjuring on Blu-Ray. On the back of the packaging you’ll find a very brief plot synopsis, a list of special features, and technical specifications. Inside of the case are two very plain black discs; one Blu-ray and one DVD, along with an insert featuring the Ultraviolet digital copy code and an advertisement for the upcoming game Dying Light.
Though I truly loved The Conjuring for its throwback 70’s style, genuinely unsettling atmosphere, and effective chills set against a true story, Annabelle fails to conjure up the scares of its predecessor. This spin-off entry is not without its share of jump-scares and creepy moments, but they are too few and far between for a film of this length and budget, like clever architectural design choices on a building with a crumbling foundation. The good news here is that the Blu-Ray disc video and audio quality are expertly crafted by the folks at Warner Bros., making for a great home viewing experience. Fans of the film will appreciate the special features that, while short, offer up some fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes for the film. I really wanted to like Annabelle, but unfortunately she was better left as a singular creepy element to a much better film.
Blu-Ray Review- Dolls
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: November 11th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 77 Minutes
From the Child’s Play series to newer offerings such as The Conjuring and its recent spin-off Annabelle, Dolls have seemingly always been a staple of the Horror genre. It’s rather curious as to why, frankly, these children’s play-things have terrified the masses for so many years. They’re meant to be so cute, cuddly, and trust-worthy…but perhaps that’s ultimately where the fear lies. How could these harmless inanimate gifts of porcelain and rubber harm the little people most near and dear to us? Or terrorize their superstitious parents? It’s a genre plot device that seems so silly, but has proved incredibly successful over the years. Much like clowns, who were meant to be so innocent and harmless, dolls in general have a tainted, horrifying aura surrounding them because of their cinematic counterparts. In 1987 Director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) released Dolls, a polished and entertaining entry in the subgenre that never takes itself too seriously.
In the film, 7-year old Judy Bower (Carrie Lorraine), her father David (Ian Patrick Williams), and her nasty step-mother Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy Gordon) arrive at a seemingly deserted mansion in the English countryside after their car becomes stuck in the mud during a thunderstorm. Upon arrival, they soon learn that the mansion is owned by the elderly Gabriel and Hilary Hartwicke (Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason). Gabriel and Hilary are welcoming to their guests, and are soon joined by three more stranded strangers; the punk-rock thieves Isabel and Enid, and the likeable sad sack Ralph (Stephen Lee). Guy explains to his stranded visitors that he used to be a toymaker before he retired, but he still lovingly crafts the children’s toys when he’s able. The mansion is littered with them, lined neatly on the shelves of nearly every room, much to the delight of little Judy. But things soon take a turn for the worse, as the Hartwicke dolls come to life throughout the stormy night, and slowly begin hacking and slashing the weary travelers to death.
Stuart Gordon’s Dolls is injected with brilliant dark humor, some insanely cool special effects, and a cast that clearly understands the genre and gives it their all, making for an enjoyable horror film that is scary, silly, and cleverly self-aware. The film’s technical merits are worth nothing as well, with some impressive lighting techniques, art direction, and set design. It may take a certain brand of Horror fan to appreciate Dolls, with its over-the-top humor and corny nature, but I found it to be a heck of a lot of fun.
Simply put, Dolls looks great on Blu-Ray. The print is in terrific condition, with plenty of detail and authentic color reproduction. The natural film grain on display looks beautiful, and textures on skin and clothing are nearly tangible at times. There are no signs of DNR or other intrusive practices to speak of, which is always a bonus on catalog releases. The only seemingly out-of-place distraction is the appearance of what looks like tiny glitter flakes that fall vertically in some select scenes (most notably in the Bower’s mansion bedroom). It’s a rather small imperfection, but worth nothing as I can’t be certain that it was intentional. Otherwise, this is a wonderful transfer!
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is very effective and suits the eerie atmosphere of the film well. The dialogue always comes through crisp and clear, and the wonderful score envelops and surrounds you throughout. The dramatic high points, especially profound during the dolls’ mayhem, is perfectly captured on this dynamic track. Well done!
Scream Factory has given Dolls their Collector’s Edition treatment by including some extra fun features for fans of this little Horror gem. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentaries (2)– There are two commentaries on this Collector’s Edition, the first with Director Stuart Gordon and Writer Ed Naha, and the second with cast members Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine, and Ian Patrick Williams. Both tracks are insanely entertaining, but I especially loved hearing Mr. Gordon discuss his film along with his screenwriter. We get to hear some detail on the production, effects, and cast throughout both, with a slightly different flavor and atmosphere depending on which you’re listening to.
- Toys of Terror: The Making of Dolls– Running over 38 minutes, this brand new documentary from Scream Factory and Red Shirt Pictures features select cast and crew members discussing the film’s legacy, production, cast, and much more. Much like the documentaries on past Scream Factory releases, this is wonderfully entertaining, with plenty of fun stories for fans of the film to enjoy. I especially enjoyed hearing from the crew about filming on location in England and on the same famous soundstages where films like Barbarella and Red Sonja were filmed (which numerous cast and crew found leftover props from). The special effects discussion concerning the marionette work and lighting involved to achieve the doll scenes is fascinating.
- Theatrical Trailer- This original theatrical trailer for Dolls runs about 2 ½ minutes and provides viewers with a fun and surprisingly gory look at the kind of film they’re getting themselves into.
- Film-to-Storyboard Comparison- This fun featurette runs over 8 minutes and includes select scenes from the film itself along with a “mini-screen” storyboard comparison. Scenes include: Teddy’s Revenge, Rosemary Takes a Dive, and Punch’s Little Secret. It’s interesting to see how the filmmakers planned these difficult sequences through storyboarding and how they actually played out on camera. Great stuff!
- Still Gallery- This still gallery runs over 4 minutes in length and plays automatically when selected; featuring several production stills, theatrical posters, and select advertising from the film’s theatrical campaign.
- More from Scream Factory- Vintage trailers for other titles in the Scream Factory line are presented here including Pumpkinhead, Phantom of the Paradise, and Sleepaway Camp.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features a newly commissioned slip-cover design from artist Nathan Thomas Milliner. The coloring, detail, and overall atmosphere than emanates from the new art is outstanding! On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a list of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the Blu-Ray disc as well as the iconic original theatrical poster design with the “They Walk. They Talk. They Kill” tagline banner available as a reversible wrap.
Stuart Gordon’s Dolls is injected with brilliant dark humor, some insanely cool special effects, and a cast that clearly understands the genre and gives it their all, making for an enjoyable horror film that is scary, silly, and cleverly self-aware. The video quality on this brand new Blu-Ray edition is stellar, sporting an incredibly clean transfer that retains the authentic film grain and boasts an impressive amount of detail. The audio track also suits the film well, delivering the dolls’ mayhem and the creepy score in fine dynamic form. As per the usual, Scream Factory has done it again in the area of special features, with the wonderful documentary Toys of Terror among other fun extras. It may take a certain brand of Horror fan to appreciate Dolls, with its over-the-top humor and corny nature, but I found it to be a heck of a lot of fun. This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory comes highly recommended!
Blu-Ray Review- The Doctor and the Devils
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: November 4th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
“A man of medicine. A pair of murderers. An unholy alliance.”
-Theatrical tagline for The Doctor and the Devils
Based upon the factual murders committed by William Burke and William Hare in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1828, The Doctor and the Devils comes from an original screenplay by Dylan Thomas and is Directed by Hammer alum Freddie Francis. The film stars Timothy Dalton as Dr. Thomas Rock, an Anatomy Professor who has been paying local henchman to dig up the graves of the recently deceased for his fascinating lectures at the academy. Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea play Robert Fallon and Timothy Broom, two degenerate crooks who get word of Dr. Rock’s grave-robbing business and are looking to make a profit. When finding the right bodies proves to be more difficult than they imagined, they take to killing unsuspecting young lads in the area (as Dr. Rock pays more for fresh corpses).
Rumors soon begin to spread about Dr. Rock’s supposed late night activities, and his rival, Professor Macklin (Patrick Stewart), sends student “spies” to attend his lectures to gain proof of his access to dead bodies “not from the hangman.” Dr. Rock makes implications to the macabre shenanigans, but lack of clear proof in the matter holds the authorities at bay. As the murders begin to hit too close to home for Dr. Rock and his assistant, and moral tension mounts between Fallon and Broom, these colorful characters’ lives arrive at an inevitable climax that spells certain doom for all.
The Doctor and the Devils has that handsomely produced Gothic feel to it, thanks to Hammer and Amicus alumni Freddie Francis. From the period costume design to the gothic set dressing and talented array of performers giving it their all, the film is exceptionally well executed. Having ignorantly never seen Timothy Dalton outside of the Bond films he made in the late 1980’s, it was a treat to see his genuine commanding presence on display in a period piece. The score by John Morris is worth mentioning as well, with its gothic and mysterious tone that exudes curiosity and stays with you for days. There are also some genuinely disturbing moments in the film, in particular, when Fallon suffocates a young man to death for the first time as he relates how he was asked to put soldiers out of their misery during his time spent as an orderly in the war. Broom pleads with him; “wait Fallon….wait, wait. For God’s sake, wait.” It’s an unnerving scene, expertly acted by both Pryce and Rea. I assure you that you’re in for a fine evening with this one, and this release from Scream Factory makes for a classy addition to their ever-growing line of Horror gems.
Though I’ll admit I became a little worried during the 20th Century Fox logo and opening shot of Dalton walking against the Edinburgh skyline (which has its share of debris), it soon after becomes immediately clear that The Doctor and the Devils looks incredibly good on this High Definition presentation. For some reason I see a lot of 1980’s films that have some scratches and anomalies in the opening credits that soon clear up incredibly well (not sure why that is). But let’s get right to it: The Doctor and the Devils retains the authentic natural film grain of the source material, has incredibly solid black levels, and even exhibits surprisingly good detail in objects, facial features, and costumes. There are a handful of seemingly soft or unfocused shots, no doubt a result of the original negative, but worth pointing out. This is a fine presentation that really exhibits a solid upgrade to High Definition.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is solid, regularly balancing dialogue, background effects, and the lovely score from John Morris in fine fashion. There is some power and depth to the audio that is quite surprising at times, and paired with the great video, it makes for a finely presented experience.
Scream Factory has given The Doctor and the Devils some select bonus features for this non-collector’s edition release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary with Steve Haberman– Author Steve Haberman sits down to discuss The Doctor and the Devils in great detail. The commentary is incredibly informative, but comes off a bit too dry and robotic, sounding as if Haberman is reading directly from a script. It lacks the fun, off-the-cuff style of previous commentaries from the Scream line. This is in no way a knock on Haberman, who is clearly an absolute scholar on the film and its history, but it simply comes off a bit dull at times.
- Interviews- This phenomenal three-way interview has Mel Brooks, Jonathan Sanger, and Randy Auerbach discussing The Doctor and the Devils for nearly 16 minutes. There isn’t a moderator but the trio discusses the film in depth. From Dylan Thomas’ wonderful screenplay to various pre-production issues, reminiscing about filming and the acting talent, and even having the “Mel Brooks” name on a genre film other than comedy. This is very entertaining stuff, and I love the fact that Shout! Factory just let the trio carry on their discussion in their way. Brooks in particular is just so entertaining to listen to, especially when he reflects on the differences in filmmaking from then to now: “But during my time making movies, there were friendships. You could actually ask people for a favor.” Bittersweet and fascinating, this featurette is wonderful.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just over 1 ½ minutes and though it’s in pretty rough condition, it offers an accurate glimpse at the type of movie that awaits you.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover, looking like a sepia toned sketch from an old book of medicine. The red title font provides a fine contrast to the drawing design, making for simple but effective cover art. 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 background art featuring a grave-robbing scene from early in the film.
The Doctor and the Devils may just be Scream Factory’s classiest film released in their ever-growing line of Horror delights. Masterfully directed by Hammer alum Freddie Francis and featuring fine performances from everyone involved, this polished cinematic version of the Burke & Hare murders is both clever and unnerving. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features an incredibly solid High Definition presentation, complete with authentic color grading and solid black levels, and the audio is surprisingly well balanced and dynamic. The special features department offers a wonderful conversation with Producer Mel Brooks, Jonathan Sanger, and Randy Auerbach, as well as an informative audio commentary. Though I felt that the included audio commentary was a bit robotic, it’s a small complaint on an otherwise great disc. The Doctor and the Devils remains an entertaining and gorgeously produced Gothic Horror entry that reminds one of Hammer films’ heyday, and this Blu-Ray edition comes highly recommended.
Hi-Def Horror: July 13th 2014
The Laboratory is excited to present the 1st installment of Hi-Def Horror, a new monthly column with reviews in brief for the latest Horror titles on Blu-Ray and DVD. Without further ado, here are some recent Horror titles released on Home Video that I had the opportunity to review.
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Street Date: July 8th 2014
- Stage Fright tries really hard to be unique, blending the slasher film qualities of Sleepaway Camp with the musical fun of a show like Glee, but unfortunately it comes up short on both counts. A decade ago, Camilla’s mom and Broadway star Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver) starred in The Haunting of the Opera (a clear Phantom rip-off), but was subsequently killed backstage by a murderous maniac wearing the mask of the “Opera Ghost” of the aforementioned show. Now, Camilla and her brother are attending a summer theater camp run by Meat Loaf (!), a former lover of their deceased mother. Lo and behold, the camp decides to put on a show of The Haunting of the Opera, and Camilla scores the lead, albeit in trade for certain favors with the show’s director. Needless to say, the killings begin as the Opera Ghost returns to wreak havoc on the production. I won’t ruin the “reveals” that this one has in store, but I will say that you can see them coming from a mile away. Stage Fright is an odd-duck film that I can understand some Horror fans appreciating, but for me, the entire thing felt forced. The musical numbers were bizarre and cheap, and the plot itself was a rehash of other, better, films. The good news is that the Blu-Ray edition from Magnet Releasing looks great in High Definition, with solid black levels and detail that is crystal clear. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track serves the film well, with the score, musical numbers, and appropriate “jump scare” moments coming through clearly across all channels. If you’re a fan of the film, the Blu-Ray is loaded with special features as well including: The Making of Stage Fright, Deleted Scenes, In Memory of a Fallen Camper, Stage Fright Sing-Along, Interviews with the cast and crew, a Set Design featurette, an AXS TV special, and a commentary with Director Jerome Sable and Co-Composer Eli Batalion. Unfortunately, this is rental material at best, though the film does have a trashy camp value that may pay off in subsequent viewings. Only time will tell.
Distributor: Well Go USA
Street Date: July 15th 2014
- From Bernard Rose, the Director of the original Candyman, comes Sx Tape, a found-footage style Horror film that works to a degree, delivers plenty of small scares, but is nevertheless, forgettable entertainment. In Sx Tape, we meet Jill and Ian, an artistic and slightly deranged couple that apparently feel the need to document everything in their daily lives on video. Wildly in love, and searching for the next big “thrill”, the pair come across an abandoned mental institution, and decide to stay for a night. This turns out to be a bad choice on their behalf, as the hospitals secrets are soon revealed, and they find themselves in the midst of a nightmare. I will personally always prefer traditional narrative to the “found footage”/POV style Horror filmmaking that has become so popular since The Blair Witch Project premiered in 1999. For me, this style ran it’s course about five years ago, but audiences say differently. Sx Tape has some fun jump scare moments, and the performances are earnest enough for the genre, but it just doesn’t set itself apart in any way from the countless other films in the sub-genre. It’s a forgettable Horror entry with a re-watch factor of zero. The Blu-Ray from Well Go USA features fine video quality, with good black levels and a nice High Definition picture. Colors look appropriately bold and clear in the beginning of the film, and the darkness of the finale displays a fine image in contrast. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track included here gets the job done just fine, with dialogue and effects coming through very clear. The Blu-Ray edition features a making-of documentary for fans as well as the original theatrical trailer for the film. If you’re a die-hard Horror fan and insist on seeing everything in the genre, you may want to rent this one for some cheap entertainment. Those who are expecting anything above cheap thrills will be disappointed.
House in the Alley
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: May 27th 2014
- Scream Factory has given the DVD treatment to the Vietnamese import House in the Alley, which broke box office records in that country, but ultimately failed to keep my attention with it’s repetitive nature and slow-burn story that leads to a cliché showdown. The film starts out with a gut-wrenching scene in which Thao (Ngo Thanh Van) miscarries during childbirth, leaving her and her husband Thanh heartbroken in their new home. Thao, unable to cope with her baby’s death, keeps the child in a box. For the next hour of the film, we get numerous scenes implicating that something sinister is afoot in this house, as Thanh tries to discover the terrifying secrets in the hope of helping his wife through her troubled post partum psychosis. The eventual gore the film provides will please Horror fans, and there are definitely some scary moments, mixed with surreal imagery to make for some modest entertainment value. The problem I have with this film has become a somewhat regular complaint with most new Horror entries: it just doesn’t set itself apart from countless other films with similar plotlines. It’s a little bit Rosemary’s Baby mixed with a haunted house theme. The good news here is that Scream Factory has given House in the Alley a solid DVD edition with a fine video presentation for the format, as well as a great Dolby Digital audio track. A theatrical trailer is the sole extra. House in the Alley is worth a rental for sure, even if it’s not entirely original.
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Street Date: July 1st 2014
- I mentioned in my earlier review for Sx Tape that I feel as though “found footage” or POV style Horror films have run their course. While my I stand by that statement, Afflicted is certainly a well-made and creepy entry in the subgenre, which kept my attention from beginning to end. Our story begins with best friends Clif and Derek setting off on a worldwide trip in which they plan on filming for their web series. After meeting some friends in Paris, Derek meets the beautiful Audrey, whom he trusts enough to spend the night with. When Clif decides to prank the two by bursting in on them, he finds Derek alone, bleeding and scratched up by Audrey, who has now disappeared. Though the two decide to continue their trip, and Derek doesn’t remember anything from the incident, he begins to develop strange super powers, as well as a strong aversion to daylight. I hesitate to say too much more about this fun little Horror entry, but it’s a unique and well-assembled film that will entertain most genre fans. The three main leads deliver fine performances, and it’s a film you will likely revisit with friends. The Blu-Ray edition from Sony Pictures boasts impressive video quality, with a fresh High Definition transfer featuring bold colors, incredible clarity, and pristine fine object detail. The audio track, presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, is very well balanced and matches the video quality in pristine presentation. Special Features include: Behind the Scenes of Afflicted, Anatomy of a Scene: The Window Jump, and Deleted Scenes (which were best left on the cutting room floor). This one definitely comes recommended.
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats
Distributor: Cult Epics
Street Date: June 3rd 2014
- Known to most through Comedian Patton Oswalt’s hilarious stand-up routine regarding his screenwriting days, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is finally available on Blu-Ray from independent label Cult Epics. Seemingly bad or campy Horror films are usually my bag, and sometimes there’s no better medicine than sitting down with friends to enjoy a ridiculously bad film from the genre. Unfortunately, though it’s insanely laughable, I don’t share the same affinity for Death Bed that others in the community seem to. It almost reminded me of a Jodorowsky film with its bizarre and surreal imagery, but mixed with cheap effects and monotone delivery from its novice cast. The basic story here is that long ago, a Demon in the form of a tree became a wind that fell in love with a woman. The demon, deeply in love, then took the form of a human, and created a bed for the two to consummate their love in. Unfortunately for the demon and the bed’s countless future victims, the woman died, and the demon’s blood cursed the bed and anyone that came in contact with it. What follows is the story of several unfortunate souls who meet “the bed”, usually ending with the horrific death of everyone involved. I laughed quite a bit at the ridiculousness of it all, but this film is incredibly slow and uninvolved for the viewer, something that even for campy fare, I demand more of. Nevertheless, many a Horror fan will rejoice to finally have this oddball film on Blu-Ray. The fine folks at Cult Epics have created a transfer that gets the job done, albeit with a color timing that appears slightly off or muted, though I can’t be sure that’s the case. Scratches and other anomalies are quite apparent throughout, but that’s to be expected given the budget and age of the film. Fans will be delighted with the special features created for this release which include: Audio Commentary by George Barry and Stephen Thrower, an Introduction by George Barry, Introduction by Stephen Thrower, Nightmare USA interview, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and the original Death Bed music credit track. Though it wasn’t necessarily for me, I do understand the appeal for some, and this one gets a light recommendation.
House of Mortal Sin
Distributor: Kino Lorber/Redemption Films
Street Date: June 17th 2014
- The horror community has been given a truly enjoyable catalog of films fro m the unique Pete Walker from Kino Lorber and Redemption Films over the past couple of years, and House of Mortal Sin is one of my favorites from the director. The wonderful Anthony Sharp stars as the morally corrupt and increasingly psychotic Father Xavier Meldrum, a priest who regularly blackmails and torments his parishioners, abusing his power in the name of the Lord. Norman Eshley is our protagonist, with more modern liberal ideals, and the only one willing to stand up against the evil Father Meldrum. It’s an exercise devoted to exposing the hypocrisy of the Church, but with fine performances, ever-engaging dialogue, and some fun slasher-type moments to boot. The Blu-Ray edition from Kino/Redemption looks outstanding, with noticeably improved detail and color timing, and is presented in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The audio track is a little disappointing, as the mix has a hard time balancing dialogue, music, and effects. There was more than a few times where the audio levels seemed slightly off balance. The Special Features are definitely fun for fans of Pete Walker, and include Pete Walker: An Eye for Terror Part 2, an audio commentary, and trailers for other films from the Director. This film is a lot of fun, and the re-watch factor is high. Recommended!
Distributor: Anchor Bay
Street Date: May 6th 2014
- In Mr. Jones, young married couple Scott and Penny decide to leave their ordinary lives behind to pursue a life in the wilderness. They document their time together, hoping to ignite the spark that they once felt for each other. Deep within the woods they find gothic, creepy scarecrows, which they are certain were created by the infamous and elusive “Mr. Jones”, and when they happen upon what they believe to be his rundown cabin, they decide to explore some more to confirm their suspicions. I won’t spoil the events that follow, but Mr. Jones is a rather fun ride for a PG-13 rated Horror entry. Sure, it’s yet another “found footage” film, but it kept me on the edge of my seat for the majority of its runtime. The performances are solid enough to make you care for these characters, and when the danger begins, you want them to survive. I wouldn’t necessarily call it original, but splicing in interview footage with “art historians” and experts on Mr. Jones’ work was an interesting narrative decision. The Blu-Ray edition from Anchor Bay Home Entertainment features outstanding picture quality that handles colors, black levels, and detail very well. The Dolby TrueHD audio track is also a treat, providing dialogue that comes through clean and sound effects that will make you jump. The only negative on this release is the absolute lack of special features. I would have appreciated seeing how the filmmakers put this one together. Still, it’s a fun film that will surprise you, and comes recommended.
Distributor: Blue Underground
Street Date: October 22nd 2013
- This Blue Underground release was from their Fall 2013 catalog, and the distributor was kind enough to send it along for review. I had heard a lot about Snuff, which has grown in cult status over the past couple decades. I knew it was assembled from edited footage from the 1971 film Slaughter, with added “newly filmed” snuff footage to cash in on the 70’s hysteria over the supposed underground death films. The concept intrigued me to say the least, but in the end, Snuff is a rather terrible film that never takes the time to establish any worthwhile characters to the audience, and is so clearly pieced together with random shots and scenes that it’s rather exhausting to sit through. It’s part road trip movie and part exploitation trash, and offers plenty of gore for those that came for it. The problem with that is the special effects are downright laughable in most scenes, and any chance of cohesiveness with the story itself is thrown out the window. The good news is that cult label Blue Underground has put together a decent looking transfer from existing film elements and a solid HD mono track that delivers dialogue and action in surprisingly dynamic fashion. They’ve also included a boat load of special features that are worthwhile for fans of the film including: interviews with Carter Stevens and Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), an interview with an FBI agent, trailers, galleries, and more. Recommended for the solid transfer, audio, and features, but the film itself leaves much to be desired, especially considered how talked about this one is in the Horror community.
Street Date: July 1st 2014
- “From the Director of You Got Served.” That’s an actual promotional line utilized in the trailer for the film, which already had me scratching my head. No Vacancy features a group of young friends on a road trip to Las Vegas, when, naturally, their brand new car breaks down on the side of the highway. The friends happen upon a roadside motel with a seemingly courteous and kind staff, and decide to stay the night and solve their car predicament in the morning. Of course, the Motel caretakers are nothing what they seemed, putting the group through several horrifying tests of sorts in what turns out to be a night full of bloodshed and terror. No Vacancy is a hybrid Horror entry; rehashing elements from countless other, better movies. Its The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Psycho meets Joy Ride. The characters are hollow, the kills predictable, and the writing is downright laughable. The DVD release from Lionsgate boasts decent picture quality for the inferior format, producing solid black levels and color timing that’s nice to look at. The audio works as well, but occasionally struggles to balance the elements across all channels evenly. Special Features include a lone trailer gallery from the distributor.
Distributor: Midnight Releasing
Street Date: July 1st 2014
- Scavenger Killers is one of worst horror films I’ve ever seen, plain and simple. It’s Bonnie and Clyde meets Natural Born Killers meets The Devil’s Rejects, and it’s as cheap as low budget Horror gets. I’m frankly surprised that some of the cast members signed on to this one. Robert Loggia? Charles Durning? Honestly guys, did you need the paycheck that bad? The worst element of Scavenger Killers is the acting, with the producers seemingly picking random folks off the Las Vegas strip to appear in their film. The gore, an odd mix of bad practical effects and cheap CGI, certainly doesn’t help. The cheap production looks pretty bad on DVD, and luckily we were spared of seeing this film in High Definition. Skip this one…at all costs.
All right creeps, that’s going to do it for this week’s Hi-Def Horror column. Stay tuned to Doctor Macabre’s Laboratory in the coming weeks for the next installment with reviews for the latest Horror Blu-Ray and DVD releases.
Blu-Ray Review- The Final Terror
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: July 1st 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 82 Minutes
I like to imagine Director Andrew Davis pitching The Final Terror to studio executives like Johnny Depp did in Ed Wood…
Mr. Davis: “Alright, here we go…Bump…in the Night! The Campsite…Massacre! The Creeper! The Forest…Primeval!”
Studio Exec: “How about The Final Terror?”
Mr. Davis: It’s perfect!
All joking aside, the above titles were, at one point or another, all working titles for what would eventually become The Final Terror. As Horror fans, we’re fortunate this film even saw the light of day. Luckily enough, some of the stars from the film began to make it big in Hollywood, and it was finally released in 1983 after sitting on the shelf for two years.
In the Final Terror, the young men of the Redwood County Youth Corps join some lovely local ladies (including a young Daryl Hannah) for a weekend camping adventure in the Redwood forest. On a side note, Daryl Hannah apparently felt the need to bring her Bavarian Yodeling uniform. Not that I’m not complaining, she looks incredible! The campers clear out a lakeside ravine and tell scary stories by the campfire, when the easily agitated Eggar (an unrecognizable Joe Pantoliano) leaves the group. During the first night, a camper goes missing, and the two lead counselors are brutally murdered by an unseen killer disguised in camouflage.
As the bodies pile up, the remaining campers suspect the unstable Eggar, whom they believe is hiding in a shack in the woods. After finding a working raft, the campers make their way down the river to escape the woodland killer and notify the authorities. This turns out to be harder than they imagined, as the killer stalks their every move, forcing the campers to set a trap for a final showdown.
The Final Terror is a curious Horror film, reminding one much more of First Blood than Sleepaway Camp. The kills compared to other films of the genre are relatively weak and uninspired, and the story truly moves along at a snails pace. It’s not a total loss by any means, as it provides some fun camp value, and features earnest performances from the cast. I’m glad to have seen it, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure it’s one that I would revisit again.
You have to give it to Scream Factory, who truly went above and beyond for this release. Before the film itself even plays, a title card gives notice that all of the original film elements for The Final Terror were lost, and that Scream Factory utilized six different prints from private film collectors to complete the transfer for this Blu-Ray release. So before I even get into my thoughts on the transfer herein, hats off to this company for putting in the extra effort!
Given the title card and advance warning from Scream Factory, I was surprised to find that The Final Terror looks better than I had imagined it would. If there’s a main fault, it’s the consistency in each reel, as colors and skin tones can fluctuate in a single moment. There is the expected damage to the print, with scratches and artifacts popping up fairly regularly, but that’s to be expected. Believe it or not, there are actually some fine aspects to this release, such as the inky black levels, and fine object detail in facial features, the forest environment, and clothing. While it won’t knock the socks off of most High Definition enthusiasts, it’s impressive that Scream Factory was able to piece this film together after all original film elements were lost.
This 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio track works well enough for this genre title, but definitely sounds “tinny” and hollow. The catchy musical score for the film features some deep bass and guitar that resonates well, but dialogue and sound effects are often unbalanced and can get lost in the mix. Similar to any minor gripes with the video, this is likely the best this movie is ever going to sound on home video, so we have to give credit where credit is due.
Scream Factory has given fans of The Final Terror some outstanding bonus features for this Blu-Ray release! Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Post Terror: Finishing The Final Terror- Running nearly twenty-three minutes in length, this documentary piece from Shout! Factory and Aine Lecht is endlessly engaging, even if I didn’t appreciate the film itself as much as others seem to. We get the opportunity to hear from Post Production supervisor Allan Holzman as he discusses the complex editing of the film, and Composter Susan Justin talking about the score she created for this low budget thriller. I especially enjoyed hearing Holzman discuss Joe Pantoliano’s great performance in the film.
- The First Terror with Adrian Zmed and Lewis Smith- Running over sixteen minutes, this fun featurette has Adrian Zmed (Marco) and Lewis Smith (Boone) discussing their roles in the film, how they got their roles, stories from the shoot, and much more. With such a low budget film, the actors talk about how they had to perform many of their own stunts, which was especially fun to listen to. Adrian even mentions the bizarre opening prologue deaths that are unrelated to the rest of the film. Great stuff!
- Theatrical Trailer- Running over two minutes, this original theatrical trailer for the film is cleverly edited together, and the corny voice-over makes it that much better!
- Behind the Scenes Still Gallery- This bonus segment includes roughly nine minutes of behind the scenes photos and production stills, many of which have never been seen before this Blu-Ray.
- Commentary with Director Andrew Davis- Probably my favorite special feature on this release is the wonderful commentary from Director Andrew Davis. He provides a lot of insight into this low budget production, and some funny stories from the shoot.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for the cover art. I love the design, which almost makes it look like a Science Fiction film. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, list of special features, technical specifications, and production stills. Inside the case itself are the Blu-Ray and DVD discs, which both feature art that mimics the cover design. Behind the discs, Scream Factory has included some nice production photos on the reverse of the slip-sheet.
More First Blood than Sleepaway Camp, The Final Terror features some earnest performances and camp value for fans of the genre, but features weak kills and a story that moves at a snails pace. Though I’m glad to have finally seen it, I’m not sure it’s a film I would revisit again. With that being said, hats off to Scream Factory for bringing The Final Terror to Blu-Ray, and painstakingly re-assembling the film after the original elements were lost. The picture and audio quality won’t impress many, but most of you will be glad to have the film available in your collections at long last. Even though I wasn’t crazy about the film itself, this Blu-Ray edition includes some fun and worthwhile special features, and it’s very evident that Scream Factory put in the extra effort for fans. Recommended.