Blu-Ray Review- Ghost Town
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: July 28th 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Runtime: 85 Minutes
Empire Pictures and Charles Band’s 1988 production of Ghost Town contains too many laugh-out-loud “what the fuck am I watching?” moments to count. When bride-to-be Kate Barrett goes missing in a desert town (honestly…who keeps their wedding dress in the backseat of a top-down convertible in the desert?), the local Sheriff’s Deputy (Franc Luz) Langley is assigned to track her down. A rough sandstorm is the apparent cause, but we (the viewers) know that a ghastly western outlaw apparition on horseback has carried her off.
As Langley begins his search, the same outlaw apparition quickly decimates his vehicle, leaving him stranded and desperate in the scorching desert heat. Our hero stumbles across the barren landscape into an abandoned Old West town in his search to solve the mystery of Kate’s disappearance, but soon finds out, nothing is what it seems. The entire town’s inhabitants are dead, stuck in a limbo of sorts, waiting for the day when a legendary lawman will come to town and rid them of the ghostly outlaw that is keeping their souls hostage. Langley, by chance, just might be the lawman they’re looking for.
Ghost Town is a fairly enjoyable B-movie cheese-fest! The story is unintentionally silly, with less-than-stellar acting ability all around, exaggerated line delivery, and questionable editing choices. If it wasn’t for its lack of repeat-watch value, Ghost Town would almost qualify for the “so bad it’s good” stamp of approval. For those that enjoy bad movies, there is no denying that the film delivers the goods. I will say that the special effects aren’t half bad, with a few select gore shots and makeup details that are impressive given the obvious budget restraints. Do I recommend it? Sure. Ghost Town isn’t a terrible way to waste away a rainy afternoon, and cheesy movie fans will delight in the film’s unintentional comedy.
Scream Factory has given Ghost Town an incredibly solid transfer onto the Blu-Ray format! It’s almost too good given the film’s B-movie laugh-fest quality (joking of course). The print is very clean, free from defects, and offers up some beautiful natural film grain without any evidence of manipulation. The dusty ghost town exhibits a depth and lifelike quality in High Definition, and facial features and clothing material are captured in stunning clarity. There are a few scattered shots with artifacts, and a handful of scenes that exhibit a “jumpy” quality (likely a stabilization issue from the source), but Ghost Town overall looks fantastic on the format!
The 2.0 DTS-HD audio track is another fine aspect to this Blu-Ray release. Dialogue always comes through clean and clear, music and sound effects are rather dynamic for a mono track, and there are no hiccups or other distortions in sound throughout the experience. The cheesy score sounds especially great here!
There are no special features included on this Blu-Ray release for Ghost Town. For many of us, having the film on the High Definition format is a special treat in and of itself. Others may be disappointed with the lack of extras.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover. I love the classic Western “pistols at dawn” pose paired with the menace of the skeleton cowboy. The artistic touches of the town’s buildings fading away and the skeleton’s shadow in the foreground are appreciated. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside of the case is the Blu-Ray disc as well as some nice reversible artwork that fans can choose to display instead of the theatrical poster art.
Ghost Town is a fairly enjoyable B-movie cheese-fest! The story is unintentionally silly, with less-than-stellar acting ability all around, exaggerated line delivery, and questionable editing choices. If it wasn’t for its lack of repeat-watch value, Ghost Town would almost qualify for the “so bad it’s good” stamp of approval. For those that enjoy bad movies, there is no denying that the film delivers the goods. The Blu-Ray from Scream Factory boasts very impressive video and audio quality, making for an enjoyable home theater experience for Horror fans. The lack of special features may be disappointing for some, but most of us are satisfied enough to finally own a rare treat like this one on the High Definition format. Western Horror films are hard to come by, and though you have to be in the right mood to appreciate its B-movie charms, Ghost Town on Blu-Ray comes recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- The Babadook
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: April 14th 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t rid of the Babadook”
Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook will stay with you long after the final credits roll. It’s not your typical Horror film, and I’m actually finding it difficult to describe it as anything but an incredibly well-executed drama that happens to feature some horror elements. It’s about grief, loss, and the struggles of parenting. There is indeed a Babadook…but exactly what is it and what does it represent? Jennifer Kent has crafted a unique little masterpiece that steps outside the lines of Horror and forces it’s viewers to dig deeper.
In The Babadook, Amelia Vannick (Essie Davis) is a single mother raising her 7-year old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a child with considerable emotional and behavioral needs. Years prior, Samuel’s father was killed in a car accident while driving Amelia to the hospital to give birth to him. The accident has left Amelia with nightmares, and left her son without a father figure in his life to aid in raising him. Samuel’s daily behaviors wreak havoc on Amelia’s sleep, and things grow more desperate when Samuel brings some homemade weapons to school and gets expelled.
One night the pair decides to read a mysterious pop-up book called The Babadook that Samuel finds in his room. The story starts out innocently enough, but grows more disturbing as they read on. The top-hat wearing, clawed menace from the book begins to haunt their dreams, and soon spills into their everyday life. As sleepless nights begin to make it hard to differentiate one day from the next, and fantasy from reality, Amelia and Samuel fight for their lives against the mysterious Babadook.
My plot synopsis is purposely vague, as I would hate to ruin this fantastic tale for the viewer. Jennifer Kent expanded upon some great ideas she displayed in her short film Monster, and crafted a true genre masterpiece with The Babadook. The acting from Essie Davis in particular is stellar, making for a performance that evokes incredible sympathy from the viewer. Young Noah Wiseman is also particularly good here, delivering a believable portrayal of a boy terrorized by not just a “monster”, but in knowing that he’s different from his peers. The Babadook is both scary and dramatically effective, with plenty of style and atmosphere that easily bests most modern day Horror fare, and comes highly recommended.
This brand new HD transfer of the film looks simply splendid. The interiors of the house offer up a nice blue-gray color palette, which look gorgeously drab. Facial features and fine object detail are a standout, with fantastic depth and clarity throughout. Black levels are also as solid as can be, with an inky perfection that works wonderfully for this type of genre (where anything could pop out from behind the shadows). There isn’t even the slightest hint of artifacts or blemishes here. The Babadook looks perfect on this Blu-Ray from Scream Factory.
The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track is a solid one, and pairs well with the fantastic video quality. Dialogue comes through clean and clear, and the brooding music and background effects are perfectly captured here. The sound design of this relatively single-space film really envelops you in your home theater, maximizing the anxiety while watching.
Scream Factory has provided fans of The Babadook with a fantastic selection of bonus features for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Jennifer Kent’s Short Film, Monster: This short film from director Jennifer Kent runs just over ten minutes and shares some thematic qualities with The Babadook. Filmed in Black and White, the story centers on a mother struggling with her son’s insistence that his doll is real. She hides the doll in the downstairs closet, which only unleashes a further disturbance in their home. The “monster” of the film shares more than a few qualities with The Babadook (claws/hands), and the pop-up book that she reads to her son was obviously an early influence on her later film as well. This was rather brilliant, and definitely offers up some scares in a short amount of time.
- Deleted Scenes– Nearly 3 minutes of deleted scenes from the film include: Amelia picking Sam up from school after his suspension, Amelia checking-in on Sam after the birthday party mishap, and Amelia bringing Sam to Gracie’s before her shift. The first two scenes were easily left on the cutting room floor, but I would have welcomed the addition of the final one. Gracie’s line “It’s not a crime to ask for help love” is quite moving, and it further allows the viewer to experience Amelia’s daily struggle.
- Creating the Book with illustrator Alex Juhasz- This nearly 4 minute featurette has designer Alex Juhasz (of The United States of Tara’s opening sequence) discussing and showcasing his handmade pop-up book featured in The Babadook. I loved hearing Alex discuss his designs and the process that he used to create something unique in a territory he was fairly unfamiliar with. Great stuff!
- A Tour of the House Set- This featurette runs nearly 7 minutes and has the crew showing the process that went into creating the interior sets of the house featured in the film. It’s interesting to hear from the crew regarding their color and design choices for the set, which feature a very storybook-like quality to them.
- The Stunts: Jumping the Stairs– This short featurette runs almost 2 minutes and offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Essie Davis, Jennifer Kent, and the stunt coordinator trying to make a flying-wire sequence work as Essie’s character is moving quickly up the stairs.
- Special Effects: The Stabbing Scene– This one runs 1 ½ minutes and has the crew showcasing the effects work that goes into a “stabbing” sequence in a Horror film, which pretty much just includes clothing and a leg of lamb. What a fun job these folks have!
- Behind the Scenes- Yet another behind-the-scenes featurette that runs nearly 3 minutes and features Jennifer Kent directing the birthday party sequence from the film and one of Amelia’s long nights “zoned out” in front of the television.
- Cast and Crew Interviews- This is the most extensive portion of the bonus features, with individual interviews with many members of the cast and crew. The entire feature runs over an hour in length, but for those of you wanting to dig more in-depth on the film’s deeper meanings, it’s all rather insightful.
- Theatrical Trailer- This is actually several theatrical trailers for the film that last nearly 5 minutes altogether.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features some of the most brilliant artwork and overall design of the year thus far. The red matte finish slipcover opens up to reveal a 3D pop-up book effect of the Babadook himself, along with the now-famous tagline from the movie. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, a list of special features and technical specifications, and a continuation of the artwork. On the interior of the slipcover is the standard Blu-Ray case, which has reversible artwork for fans to choose from. The interior of the case features the Blu-Ray disc which also has some standout artwork. Hats off to Shout! Factory’s Mindy Kang for the packaging design!
The Babadook will stay with you long after the final credits roll. It’s not your typical Horror film, being both scary and dramatically effective, with plenty of style and atmosphere that easily bests most modern day genre fare. Jennifer Kent has crafted a unique little masterpiece that steps outside the genre lines and forces it’s viewers to dig deeper. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features truly outstanding video and audio quality, a wealth of fun bonus material, and the best packaging job of 2015 thus far. The “pop-up” book slipcover is a genius design, and is especially welcome for admirers of unique home video packaging. The Babadook comes highly recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Blind Woman’s Curse
Distributor: Arrow Video USA
Street Date: March 24th 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.44:1 Aspect Ratio, Japanese Mono PCM Audio
Runtime: 85 Minutes
Teruo Ishii’s Blind Woman’s Curse is a bizarre and highly entertaining mix of samurai films and traditional Japanese ghost stories. Having seen this and Lady Snowblood after the fact, it’s very clear that Director Quentin Tarantino paid homage to these violent yet strangely beautiful films from the Nikkatsu and Toho catalogs with his Kill Bill series.
In the beginning of the film we meet Akemi (Meiko Kaji), leader of the Tachibana yakuza clan, as she leads her fellow dragon tattooed warriors against a rival gang. This sequence is one of the most beautiful battle scenes I have encountered in film, with a mix of fast action and slow motion camera techniques capturing the dueling samurai swords clashing in the rain. The showdown comes to a screeching halt with Akemi blinding the brother of the rival gang’s leader, Boss Goda. A black cat licks the blood from the injured girls face, growling and staring at Akema as she becomes cursed for what she has done.
We follow Akemi to her prison experience some time later, as she tells her story to fellow female inmates. The blind girl and black cat are giving her nightmares, and she knows revenge will soon follow. Cut to three years later, the local villages are in a state of unrest as the rival gang war over territory reaches a new peak. The blind woman slowly begins to exact her revenge on Akemi’s gang, skinning the dragon tattoos from their backs one-by-one.
Director Ishii’s film is heavy on style and mood, but has a sense of humor about the story at hand as well, as evidence by some of the outrageous facial expressions left on the blind woman’s victims. The female characters are very strong in this, with some of the male roles left solely for comic relief. This is a welcome gender role change from other Japanese films that proceeded Blind Woman’s Curse, helping to usher in a new era in cult cinema’s tough women.
The climactic showdown between Akemi and the blind woman is skillfully done and a treat for genre fans. This movie is a lot of fun, everything from the sincere performances, light comedic moments, matte painting backgrounds, set design, and musical score creates a mood that is undeniably cult and consistently entertaining.
Arrow Video’s US release for Blind Woman’s Curse features an updated transfer that is even more impressive than the UK release counterpart. The US version looks slightly darker by comparison, with better contrast and a more authentic overall look to the film. From my original UK review: Arrow Video has breathed new life into this 1970 cult-classic with a 1080P transfer that retains the look of the time period, yet graces us with a remastered image that looks great on a High Definition screen. Colors are authentic and bold, from the slightly blue hue of the timing to the bright red blood spraying on the walls, there is a balance here that looks marvelous. There is some minor print damage in some scenes including scratches and “pops”, but it’s never distracting and adds to the cult atmosphere. Detail is crystal clear in most scenes, particularly close-up shots of the main cast. I also didn’t detect any digital noise reduction or edge enhancement on the transfer, which is always a bonus for those of us that appreciate the original intended look of the film. This is yet another standout transfer from Arrow.
The uncompressed Linear PCM mono track included here is surprisingly powerful, even though it doesn’t have the dynamic range of HD 5.1. Dialogue is supported very well, as are the incredible action scenes. There is a respectable balance to the audio that Arrow provided, and it absolutely sounds authentic to the time period of the film. Swords clang and clash, blood squirts, and flesh peals in glorious detail. There’s a little bit of everything to find safely balanced on this track. Well done.
Arrow Video USA has included the same decent if not relatively limited bonus content here, but the audio commentary alone is extremely informative and well worth listening to. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary by Japanese Cinema Expert Jasper Sharp– Truly an expert on the genre and time period for Japanese cinema, Jasper’s commentary makes for a very entertaining audio experience.
- Original Theatrical Trailer– This is a short but fun trailer for the film that originally played in front of Japanese audiences in 1970.
- Stray Cat Rock Trailer Series– Four trailers for Nikkatsu studio films also starring Meiko Kaji.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this US Blu-Ray edition from Arrow Video features some spectacular cover art featuring Meiko Kaji and her dragon tattoo by artist Gilles Vranckx. You also have the option of reversing the sleeve for alternate art as well. The included Blu-Ray and DVD discs also feature some nice art with a blood-red color scheme. You will also find a very detailed booklet with behind-the-scenes photographs and an essay by Tom Mes titled Meiko’s Adventures in Professor Ishii’s Erotic-Grotesque Wonderland.
Blind Woman’s Curse is an enormously entertaining cult mix of Japanese samurai films, yakuza culture, and traditional ghost stories. With an odd but fascinating mix of drama, action, and dark comedy, there is a little something for everyone in this film. Though the audio track remains similar to the UK version, the new US transfer from Arrow Video is top notch, further elevating the already sharp looking disc with better contrast and a more pleasing darker image. Though this release is still slightly lacking in the bonus features department, it’s a minor quibble in the scheme of things. Serving as one of Arrow Video’s flagship titles for their upcoming US releases, Blind Woman’s Curse remains an absolute treat to add to the collection, and comes highly recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Love at First Bite/Once Bitten
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: February 10th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 96 Minutes/94 Minutes
Before I even discuss the movies themselves, can we take a moment to applaud Scream Factory’s efforts to mix things up a bit when it comes to catalog releases? Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Horror distributor is releasing this double feature for 1979’s Love at First Bite and 1985’s Once Bitten (not to mention Vampire’s Kiss/High Spirits as well). Their willingness to cater slightly outside the genre circle with these Horror comedy-romances speaks highly to both their business savvy and knowledge of their fan base.
Love at First Bite– In this 1979 comedy, bronze statue George Hamilton portrays Count Dracula, who along with his trusted Renfield, is forced to vacate his castle to make room an Olympic Training facility. Believing that New York model Cindy Sondheim (Susan Saint James) is the reincarnation of his one true love, he soon arrives in the Big Apple searching for her. Subsequently, her Psychiatrist Jeffrey Rosenberg (Richard Benjamin) happens to be the grandson of Dracula’s nemesis: Van Helsing. Though it’s certainly not a laugh-a-minute affair, as a Horror fan, it’s the type of comedy that brings the perma-smiles throughout. It’s corny, cute, harmless, and unequivocally stuck in its place and time.
Once Bitten– This 1985 comedy stars a young Jim Carrey as Mark Kendall; a desperate High School kid in L.A. who just wants to get laid. With his girlfriend’s rejections and ongoing desire to wait until she’s ready, a fed-up Mark and his friends decide to hit up the local club scene in search of easy sex. There, Mark meets The Countess (Lauren Hutton), who whisks him away to her mansion for a seemingly good time. Mark is bitten (and fooled into thinking he finally had sex), but has not been completely “turned” into a Vampire yet. His increasingly odd behavior begins to worry his friends and girlfriend, and the Countess pursues desperate measures to finish what she started. Once Bitten, sadly, hasn’t held up too well over the past 30 years. It’s a somewhat fascinating film for Jim Carrey fans to see the young actor hamming it up, but that’s likely the only reason you’ll keep watching. There is some fun chemistry between Lauren Hutton and Cleavon Little (as The Countess’ assistant), but other than that, this is a mostly yawn-inducing 80’s effort.
Let’s begin with Love at First Bite. The print utilized here is a clean one (given the period stock), sporting natural film grain and an authentic color palette. The black levels are surprisingly inky and solid, with only the occasional white speckling or debris visible periodically throughout the film. Once Bitten looks even better, with fantastic grain structure and color reproduction on display. Both films look surprisingly good in High Definition.
The 2.0 HD mono tracks works well for both movies; supporting dialogue and intermittent music and background sound design appropriately. Neither audio track is going to “wow” you with sheer power necessarily, but they get the job done for the respective films they accompany.
Scream Factory has given this blood-sucking double feature select bonus features for fans to peruse, and only for Love at First Bite. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for Love at First Bite.
- Radio Spots- Select radio spots that played throughout the theatrical campaign for Love at First Bite. I love when Scream Factory includes these gems on their releases, as they truly serve as a nostalgic time machine of sorts for genre lovers and Horror fans.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory mimics their past double feature releases with the original theatrical poster design for each film along with the double feature logo centered at the bottom. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis for each film, a short list of special features for each, technical specifications, and select production stills from the films. Inside the case are two Blu-Ray discs as well as more production stills on the reverse wrap.
I have to applaud Scream Factory for mixing things up with this Comedy-Horror double feature for Love at First Bite and Once Bitten. Their willingness to cater outside the genre circle speaks to both their business savvy and knowledge of their cult-classic loving fan-base. Love at First Bite is a cheesy delight that offers up some light laughs and a perma-smile that’s hard to shake, while Once Bitten is pure 80’s mediocrity that serves as a “curiosity” for those that want to see a young Jim Carrey shine, but offers little beyond. Nevertheless, this is a fun double feature release with great video and decent audio, but one that does admittedly run a little light on the special features. This release still easily gets my recommendation as a fun horror-comedy marathon for a rainy evening.
Blu-Ray Review- Ouija
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: 90 Minutes
I would venture to say that most healthy upbringings involve some sort of journey into the spiritual world of the unknown. Whether it was clinging tightly to your group of friends as you nervously turned off the bathroom lights and chanted “Bloody Mary” in the mirror, got up the guts to walk onto the porch of the neighborhood “spooky house”, or even spent a night in a graveyard with candles and a Ouija board. Or…maybe I just had a particularly unhealthy obsession with the macabre as a youngster. All joking aside, I think most of us would agree that there was a point in our early teen years, perhaps earlier for some, where we became fascinated with what lies beyond. The history behind the Spirit board or Ouija board (as it has come to be known) is a fascinating one; from its beginnings in planchette writing in ancient China to its commercialization by Parker Brothers (later bought by Hasbro) in the late 1960’s, the controversial means of speaking to the dead have the makings of a movie written all over it. Though the concept had been explored before in films like The Exorcist and Witchboard, 2014’s Ouija from Director Stiles White goes all-out in exploiting the mysterious game on the big screen.
Ouija stars Olivia Cooke as Laine Morris, a young woman whose best friend Debbie (Shelley Hennig) has just apparently committed suicide after using a Ouija board while home alone. Unconvinced that Debbie would ever harm herself in this fashion, Laine and her friends begin to investigate the mysterious nature of her death. They hold a séance in Debbie’s home, and appear to make contact with her, allowing some comfort within the group to finally let her rest in peace. But the terror has just begun. Soon Debbie and her friends begin to experience visions, scrawled messages, and other dire warnings that lead them to believe that they have awakened something in this house that refuses to rest until it can take more lives with it.
I’ll be completely honest with you. I enjoyed the first half of Ouija quite a bit. Though there was nothing particularly original about the film’s opening or subsequent ability to draw the viewer in, it simply unfolded in a way that reminded me of cheesy 90’s Horror; a group of college-aged kids, a mysterious object, an untimely death in the group that begs to be solved. It wasn’t much, but it surprisingly captured my interest. But any positive feelings I had quickly faded soon after, when the film ventured into territory that was all too familiar and easy. The potential to scare with a film centered on spirit boards is huge, but Ouija instead relies on jump scares and formulaic plot devices that are devoid of any true fear for the viewer. The cast does well enough with the material at hand, but stumbles more than occasionally with a script that doesn’t give them much to work with. Word on the street is that Ouija suffered from multiple reshoots and studio edits that left quite a bit of footage on the cutting room floor (much of which you can see in the trailer). Hope fully someday Universal will release an Extended Cut and allow Horror fans the opportunity to gauge any lost potential.
As usual, Universal has done a fine job on the video portion of this Blu-Ray edition of Ouija. The HD print features deep black levels, a remarkably clear and vibrant palette, and clarity that impresses throughout. Though I didn’t care much for the film itself, this is a nice looking Blu-Ray disc.
The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track included herein is a great example of great sound design for HD audio. The thrills and jump scares in the film (cheap as they are) work extremely well on this surround track, filling your living room with atmosphere. It’s the kind of audio track that will get you peeking up from under the covers fairly quickly. Well done!
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has provided fans of Ouija with a limited selection of bonus features to accompany this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- The Spirit Board: An Evolution- This roughly 4 minute featurette has the cast and crew discussing the titular board, its origins, and the horror elements they utilized during the making of the film.
- Adapting the Fear- This featurette runs just under 4 minutes and features the cast and crew discussing their personal history involving Ouija boards as well as stories they heard that inspired the screenwriting process. They also share some spooky moments that happened on set while filming.
- Icon of the Unknown- This featurette runs exactly 4 minutes and features some historians and experts discussing how the Ouija board works.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Universal Studios Home Entertainment features a very nice matte finish slipcover complete with embossed logo. The design itself reminds one of the texture of an actual Ouija board, which is a nice touch. 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. I would love to see Universal finally explore disc design options other than plain blue and silver.
Growing up with a fascination of the spiritual realm and all things macabre, I enjoyed my fair share of dark and stormy nights with a Ouija board and lit candles with my group of friends. The very thought of a movie centered on the concept of spirit boards seemed very exciting. Unfortunately, Ouija falls apart with an uninspired script, cheap thrills, and nothing in particular to set it apart from the myriad of repetitive Horror films these days. The good news here is that the Blu-Ray from Universal Studios Home Entertainment features strong video and perfectly captured audio design on the disc. The special features are light at only 12 minutes total. If you’re like me and were looking forward to a Horror film that would finally get the world of Ouija right, this certainly isn’t it.
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.
Blu-Ray Review- Squirm
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: October 28th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
I’m not ashamed to admit that the first time I saw Squirm was on the infamous Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. Growing up in Minnesota in the 1990’s, MST3K introduced me to many horror, cult, and science fiction titles that I may otherwise have never seen. And like many of those films that were so hilariously “riffed” on the show, I would come to appreciate Squirm with and without the riffing. It may not be the most polished Horror production, but it’s damn creepy and certainly charming with its low budget southern atmosphere.
In Squirm, Don Scardino plays Mick, a young man on his way to Fly Creek, Georgia when the bus that carries him can go no further due to the flooding in the area, a result of a recent thunderstorm. Mick makes his way through the swampy terrain on foot to see his darling girlfriend Geri (Patricia Pearcy), intending to stay awhile with her family as he gets to know Fly Creek and it’s stand-offish inhabitants a little better. Little does Mick know that because the power lines were knocked down in the recent storm, the resulting electricity has given the worms in the soil super strength and general ferocity, and soon the townsfolk are up to their elbows in mutant creepy crawlies of all shapes and sizes.
Corpses begin to appear around town with their flesh ripped directly from the bone, worms slither out of showerheads and through people’s faces, among other creepy shenanigans. With little help from the local Sheriff (Peter MacLean) and time running out, Mick and Geri launch their own investigation into why the worms have invaded their town and concoct a plan to stop them.
Revisiting Squirm after many years was a delight in more ways than one. Sure, the film has the B movie stamp written all over it, with a generally low budget feel, some shoddy editing, and supporting players that seem to have been cast right out of the produce section at the Piggly Wiggly. But this film has oodles of charm! The main cast truly gives it their all, making their down-home characters quite believable in an otherwise ridiculous scenario. The gross-out effects from a then relatively unknown Rick Baker are a delight as well, providing plenty of barf bag moments for viewers (especially if you’re sensitive to our slithery soil dwelling friends). Squirm fits right in as part of Scream Factory’s ever-growing line of Horror treats, and I enjoyed revisiting the film on this brand new Blu-Ray edition.
It’s safe to say that you’re going to be quite astonished at how incredibly good Squirm looks on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory. Going in, especially with its low budget nature, I prepared myself for a likely rough-looking presentation, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This High Definition viewing experience provides one of the cleanest transfers of a low-budget Horror film I’ve ever seen on the format. The print provides authentic natural film grain that is ever present and without any signs of digital manipulation. Colors look period-accurate and maintain stability throughout, fine object detail is shockingly pristine in most cases, and there is nary a scratch or blemish to be seen. It’s incredible, and slightly fascinating as to how the hell this looks so good on Blu-Ray.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is more in line with my expectations going in, but that’s not to say it’s a disappointment in the slightest. Dialogue is always crystal clear and the track has some oomph thanks to the HD upgrade. The score and background effects balance is slightly limited, sometimes wavering in its ability to present the audio without a “tinny” or ringing dynamic attached. Given the nature of the film, it really does sound just fine, and any limitations are likely the result of the original audio source.
Scream Factory has given Squirm the Collector’s Edition treatment with some great bonus features for Horror fans. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Jeff Lieberman– Director Jeff Lieberman gives an in-depth and focused commentary here, providing an insightful listening experience for fans of the film. In between discussing the cast, special effects, and filmmaking techniques, Jeff is pretty funny as he naturally reacts to scenes from the film (including goofs, plot logic, etc.). Jeff talking about calling into a local television station that chose to play Squirm in black and white is especially fun, as he called not to complain but to praise them because he loved how the film looked! This is an insanely fun commentary to listen to.
- Digging In: The Making of Squirm- Lasting roughly 33 minutes, this brand new documentary from Aine Leicht and the folks at Shout! Factory provides fans of the film with plenty of fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, production details, and fun memories from the cast and crew. Director Jeff Lieberman and actor Don Scardino in particular are often hilarious to listen to, with more than a handful of funny anecdotes to share. I especially enjoyed the discussion about using the locals for supporting roles in the film. Once again Leicht and company have put together a well edited and insightful documentary for fans! Great stuff!
- Eureka! With Jeff Lieberman- Running just over 7 minutes, this is yet another fun featurette (once again from Leicht & Shout!) where Director Jeff Lieberman leaves the interview chair and brings us (quite literally) to the home he lived in when he came up with the idea for Squirm. It was nice to hear not only about the films inception, but about Lieberman’s beginnings in the industry.
- Original Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for Squirm runs just under two minutes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you got to love those voice overs!
- TV Spot- This vintage television spot runs under a minute and gives viewers a pretty good idea of what they’re in for.
- Radio Spot- This actual radio spot from the theatrical promotion runs just over a minute and is very effective!
- Still Gallery- This still gallery plays automatically when selected and features some fantastic color and black and white photographs from the making of the film.
- More from Scream Factory- Vintage trailers for other titles in the Scream Factory line are presented here including Pumpkinhead, Motel Hell, and The Beast Within.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features a newly commissioned slip-cover design from Artist Paul Shipper, who also recently worked on their Halloween Complete Collection. The coloring is gritty and perfect, with Roger’s worm-invaded face and Geri’s half naked shower surprise, the selected moments he chose to portray suit the film nicely. 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 Blu-Ray disc as well as the amazing original theatrical “skull” poster design available as a reversible wrap.
Squirm on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory is creepy, crawly, High Definition gross-out fun! Though I first saw the film as a kid when it was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the film has its charms with or without the riff-track. Though the B-movie creature feature clearly shows its production budget, the then-amateur cast gives it their all, and the gross-out effects from Rick Baker provide for plenty of barf bag fun. I’m still quite shocked at how incredibly good Squirm looks on this brand new Blu-Ray transfer as well, with nary a blemish to be found and an audio track that works just fine. The special features on this Collector’s Edition are once again a standout aspect, especially with the wonderfully detailed and entertaining Digging In: The Making of Squirm documentary. Squirm fits right in as part of Scream Factory’s ever-growing line of Horror treats, and I enjoyed revisiting the film on this brand new Blu-Ray edition. Recommended!
Blu-Ray Review- Scanners
Distributor: The Criterion Collection
Street Date: July 15th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 103 Minutes
As a life-long Horror and Science Fiction aficionado, I felt like I hit the gold mine when I came across David Cronenberg’s work for the first time when I saw The Fly (1986) as a pre-teen. The Director’s insanely gory vision of the dark side of technology, as well as his reliance on a solid story and realistic characters, made me seek out his work in a frenzied pre-pubescent panic. Soon I would watch Videodrome (1983), which would become one of my all-time Top 10 films. But it was Scanners, a film that as far as I knew was about exploding heads, which really captured my interest at the time. What a concept! We’ve all had a bully or tormentor of some kind that we only wished we could unleash the same sort of telepathic revenge on. The concept had been done before in films like Carrie (1976) and The Fury (1978), but Cronenberg brought a polished level of sadism to his take, and a cinematic Horror classic was born.
In Scanners, Stephen Lack stars as Cameron Vale, a telepathic vagrant known as a “Scanner”, who is completely unaware of the full extent of his powers. “Scanners” can telepathically link themselves to others’ nervous systems, allowing them access to their thoughts, heart rate, brain waves, you name it. Following a disturbance in a mall food court, Cameron is captured by government agents and placed into the care of Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), a research specialist with ConSec. When one of ConSec’s scanners is attacked by the dangerous rogue scanner Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), the company turns to Dr. Ruth for a solution. Dr. Ruth begins to train Cameron to not only control his “scanning” capabilities with an experimental drug called Ephemerol, but also to hone his dangerous skills in order to defeat Revok once and for all. Scanners is one of those films that I would hate to spoil for those who haven’t seen it, so I’ll leave my plot synopsis at that.
Revisiting Scanners on this brand new Blu-Ray edition from The Criterion Collection was both delightful and eye-opening in that I continue to appreciate the film as a unique and strong effort from Cronenberg, but I’m also willing to admit that the film is quite dated in 2014. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve seen so many various telepathic movies since I first viewed Scanners as a pre-teen, and I’m able to recognize its strengths and shortcomings by comparison. Scanners still benefits from fine execution on behalf of the filmmakers, with brilliant special effects that are still very effective and engaging performances from a talented cast. What does it lack? Well the ending for one, though the effects are impressive, is a bit anti-climactic and “small scale” for a film that promises it’s viewers an all-out telepathic battle of epic proportions. It’s rather short and confined to one space.
Though it may sound like I’m being too hard on a legitimate cult classic, there were just a few things I noticed this time around that somehow evaded me over the years. Believe me when I say that I wouldn’t own four separate versions of the film on home video if I didn’t adore it, even with a few shortcomings. Scanners remains an exciting cinematic tale of social paranoia and telepathic chaos that will delight fans of the genre.
Mind=blown. I’ve owned many different versions of Scanners on home video throughout the years, from Laserdisc to VHS and DVD, and this latest Blu-Ray edition features a transfer that blows them all away. Restored digitally from a 2K scan, the fine object detail is outstanding, revealing facial features and small clothing textures that one would have never noticed on previous formats. The colors look superb and accurate to the time period in which it was filmed, retaining the somewhat washed-out look of the theatrical print. This is a very clean print to boot, with very minimal (if any) anomalies or artifacts to report. Beautiful doesn’t quite capture it; this is one of the better restorations I’ve seen in 2014.
The HD Mono track presented here may lack the power of a multi-channel effort, never quite enveloping you in the cinematic realm, but dialogue always comes through clean and clear and background sound design is captured with somewhat dynamic results (given the limitations). It’s a little front heavy and obviously lacks range, but it gets the job done.
The Criterion Collection has provided fans of Scanners with their usual Collector’s Edition treatment, loading this Blu-Ray release with tons of great features. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- The Scanners Way: Creating the Special Effects in Scanners– This great featurette lasts over 20 minutes and delves into the creative process involved in the special effects wizardry behind the film. Featuring several of the crew that worked on the makeup and practical effects, these extended interviews offer some fascinating insight the work that these magical people do on a daily basis.
- Mental Saboteur- How can one not love Michael Ironside? He’s one of my personal favorite villains and character actors of the 80’s and 90’s, and this nearly 20 minute interview is fascinating. Michael delves into all things Scanners including his respect for David Cronenberg, comparing paychecks with his fellow cast mates, the special effects wizardry behind the exploding head sequence, his other work following his move to America from Canada, and much more. I absolutely loved hearing from the man himself about his career. He’s very down-to-earth and honest about life and the living he chose to pursue.
- The Ephemerol Diaries– This featurette was produced in 2012 and features a roughly 14 minute extended interview with actor Stephen Lack discussing his work on Scanners and other films as well as his contribution to the visual arts. I especially enjoyed hearing him discuss Patrick McGoohan’s daily frustrations on the set relating to the screenplay and focus of the film.
- The Bob McLean Show- Taken from a March 1981 episode of the show and running about 11 minutes, Bob McLean sits down with Director David Cronenberg to discuss Scanners and his seven previous films at the time including: Stereo, Rabid, The Brood, and other cult gems.
- Stereo- On a disc packed with great special features, this is the standout gem of the set! Stereo is David Cronenberg’s first feature film from 1969 and truly acts as a prequel to Scanners in some ways, as it involves telepathy and medical experimentation. Presented in High Definition black and white, the film looks splendid on the format. The feature running time is 65 minutes.
- Radio Spots- Roughly 1 ½ minutes of radio spots that aired during the theatrical campaign for Scanners.
- Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs over 2 minutes and gives viewers a fairly good idea of what they’re in for by presenting an edited version of the exploding head scene. The video quality is understandably not up to par, but it adds to the nostalgic atmosphere.
This Blu-Ray edition from The Criterion Collection features some brilliant new artwork on the cover, with Michael Ironside in the midst of combustion. Hardcore fans of the film have been a little mixed on this artwork, but I personally dig it. On the reverse of the slip-box you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, and technical specifications. Inside the case is a digi-pack with more beautiful art which contains the Blu-Ray disc, and two separate DVD discs for the film and special features. There is a booklet with an essay by Kim Newman entitled Mind Over Matter, as well as some more in-depth technical information on the video transfer and production notes. This is a slick and modern looking set with a design that Cronenberg fans will adore.
While Scanners hasn’t necessarily aged as well as other films from the Cronenberg catalog, it remains a well-executed science fiction horror hybrid that balances terror and high-drama in equal measure. The director’s later films would delve more deeply into the bizarre extremities of humanity, but Scanners is a solid and exciting effort with fine performances from the cast and incredibly fun special effects that solidifies its well-deserved rank among the genre films of the 1980’s. This long awaited Blu-Ray edition from The Criterion Collection delivers the goods on picture and audio quality, and provides a fascinating array of special features (including Cronenberg’s first film Stereo) that will delight fans of the film. This Criterion Collection edition comes recommended, especially with the top-notch video/audio and fully-loaded bonus features.
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.
DVD Review- True Detective: The Complete First Season
Distributor: HBO Home Entertainment
Street Date: June 10th 2014
Technical Specifications: 480P, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround
Runtime: 458 Minutes
I’ve been watching HBO’s excellent programming since I was a teenager, back in the good old days of Tales from the Crypt and Dream On. In High School, the network introduced me to The Sopranos, The Wire, and Six Feet Under, all of which I still consider among my favorite television programs of all time. In college, it was all about Deadwood, and even though it was incredibly short lived, it’s a series that I’ve revisited multiple times on home video. And right now, we have several great shows airing on the pay network, including Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire. Unlike the aforementioned shows, I wasn’t immediately drawn into the trailers and television promos building up to the premiere of True Detective. In fact, my wife and I casually sat down on the living room couch a few months back, unaware that the premiere was about to begin as we turned on the television, and decided to give it a chance. From the opening moments, we were hooked.
True Detective follows the seventeen-year long investigation into a gruesome murder from the perspectives of Detectives Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey). In the beginning, it’s 1995, and the mismatched partners from Louisiana’s Criminal Investigation Division (C.I.D.) are assigned to solve the ritualistic murder of Dora Lange, a young woman whose killer has left her naked and bound to the roots of a tree, deer antlers affixed to her skull, with strange homemade artifacts left behind. Marty is the faithful believer, married with children, but with problems he doesn’t want to confront. Rust is the existential atheist with nowhere to call home, obsessed with the murders and motives behind the crimes he is tasked to solve. True Detective features a non-linear narrative, frequently jumping back and forth between the present (2012) where Marty and Rust are interviewed separately about the Dora Lange investigation, and the past where the investigation leads them down increasingly dark and sinister paths.
The worst thing that a reviewer can do is spoil a show that has so many surprises to offer, so I’ll leave my synopsis at that. True Detective features career-best performances from both Harrelson and McConaughey, who utilize their distinct abilities (and the incredible screenplay) to believably bring their characters to life. These are hardened men, who have seen things that many people will fortunately never have to experience. They’re also flawed human beings, who each have something they can learn from one another.
It’s commendable and impressive how much style and suspense True Detective offers up in only eight hour-long episodes. The cast is superb, the music is unnerving and beautifully composed to each sequence, and the story itself is consistently captivating. Rarely in a television series do we get a finale that is so utterly perfect as well, completely tying up any loose ends and character arcs. I am thrilled that HBO has decided to continue this series, with each new season featuring a new case and detectives to follow. Though the 8-episode first season could have stood all on it’s own as a memorable miniseries, I look forward to seeing what’s in store for future seasons. True Detective receives my absolute highest recommendation.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get my hands on a Blu-Ray edition to review, but this DVD set looks surprisingly good for an “inferior” format. True Detective is a show that features a very stark and gritty visual appearance, and the solid black levels and subdued color scheme look fantastic here on DVD. Definition isn’t quite as clear and precise as it would be on Blu-Ray, but overall this is a fine looking release. Judging from screenshots I’ve seen for the High Definition edition, that is obviously the preferred format to own.
Again, the DVD edition lacks the DTS-HD Master Audio track of the Blu-Ray, so while this does sound plenty powerful and dynamic for a DVD release, it will always sound better in High Definition. Dialogue does come through very clear, and background music and action is well balanced.
HBO Home Entertainment has provided fans of True Detective with a somewhat generic, but enjoyable set of special features to accompany the show. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Making True Detective– Running over fifteen minutes, this is a decent, if somewhat standard, making-of featurette from HBO. Like most “making-of” segments from the network, this reveals a bit too much about the show, it’s central mystery, and it’s character arcs, so if you’ve never seen the show, avoid this until you experience it in it’s entirety. With that being said, this is a nice overview of the series and you get to hear from the central cast and crew including Nic Pizzolatto, Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan, and many more.
- Inside the Episode- This portion of the special features offers two separate featurettes on specific episodes including After You’ve Gone and Form and Void. You can choose to watch them separately or “play all.” Both segments run 4-5 minutes each, and offer a short inside look at the meaning behind the episodes, especially some of the more existential questions viewers may have about the characters and the mystery at hand.
- Deleted Scenes- I’m not even sure you could call these deleted scenes to be frank. Running nearly four minutes long, this is a series of scenery shots of various locations from the series: a burning field, Louisiana swamplands, roadways, graveyards, all set against some unnerving music. There is not a single set of dialogue throughout the entire sequence. It’s almost as if random pieces of cinematography from the entire series (those in-between moments of Marty & Rust driving through the country) were assembled together here in one long sequence.
- Up Close with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson- Though short, this is probably my favorite special feature on this release, with introspective interviews with both stars on four different scenes from the series including: the dinner scene, the fight scene, the bar scene, and fatigue. It’s a heck of a lot of fun to hear Harrelson and McConaughey discuss their characters’ reasoning and choices in the select scenes. The two stars discussing their fight scene from the series is especially fun and hilarious, and it’s obvious they enjoyed working together. You can choose to watch these separately or simply “play all.” The entirety lasts about eight minutes.
- A Conversation with Nic Pizzolatto and T-Bone Burnett- Running slightly over fourteen minutes, this is a video discussion between Musician T-Bone Burnett and Series Producer and writer Nic Pizzolatto. If you enjoyed the fantastic and moody music from the show, you’ll really get a kick out of hearing from Mr. Burnett. He obviously studied not only the script itself but also the music and social scene in Louisiana. Great stuff!
- Audio Commentary (2)- Nic Pizzolatto, T Bone Burnett, and Scott Stephens provide commentary on two select episodes.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this DVD release from HBO Home Entertainment features some fantastic artwork that mimics the poster campaign during broadcast, and captures so much style in subtle fashion. This is a hard shell slipcase, with the special features and series synopsis on the reverse of the packaging. Inside you’ll find a fold-out digipack with individual episode listings, some nice background art, and three DVD discs.
True Detective is a stylish thriller series featuring career-best performances from Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. The writing is superb and believable, the cinematography gritty and gorgeous, and the brilliant musical score just adds to the effect. I love the journey that both detectives take throughout their investigation and the aftermath, and this features one of the best final episodes of any show in recent memory. I’m excited to see what the creators have in store for subsequent seasons, which will each feature different actors and storylines. The DVD edition features solid picture and audio quality, but the Blu-Ray edition is the one to pick up for video and audiophiles alike. The special features left me wanting more, especially for a show with so much to offer. With that being said, this is simply one of the better television shows of the past decade, and is a must own on either format. True Detective comes Highly Recommended.