Blu-Ray Review- The People Under the Stairs
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: August 11th 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 103 Minutes
“In every neighborhood, there is a house that adults whisper about, and children cross the street to avoid.” –Theatrical tagline for The People Under the Stairs
The People Under the Stairs is not only one of Wes Craven’s very best films; I consider it a modern day Horror classic. Craven’s 1991 feature is a masterfully crafted urban horror story that is also exceptionally well written for the genre. The film offers up plenty of terrifying sequences, sadistically dark comedic moments, and a perfectly cast ensemble that delights in their over-the-top characters. It’s an endlessly re-watchable Horror treat, and fans will be overjoyed with this latest Collector’s Edition release from Scream Factory.
Poindexter “Fool” Williams (Brandon Adams) and his family are the last remaining residents of their rundown apartment complex in Los Angeles. His mother is sick and requires hospital treatment that they’re unable to afford. It certainly doesn’t help their predicament when they receive an eviction notice from their mysterious landlords, the Robesons. When his sister’s boyfriend Leroy (Ving Rhames) tells Fool about the rumored hoard of gold that the Robeson’s have stashed away somewhere in their old creepy house, they concoct a plan to steal it from the greedy old couple. After all, with that amount of gold at his disposal, Fool could certainly afford to pay for his mother’s medical care and save their apartment.
Suffice to say, Fool and Leroy’s attempted robbery goes horribly wrong, trapping Fool in the disturbing house of the utterly psychotic Robeson’s. With no possibility of escape, the deranged “Daddy” and “Momma” Robeson on his trail, and cannibalistic offspring living inside the walls of the house, Fool’s only hope of survival is Alice, the Robeson’s sheltered daughter.
The People Under the Stairs delights at every twisted turn with fantastic makeup and special effects work from KNB EFX, a moody score from Don Peake, and an impressive production design. Twin Peaks’ Everett McGill and Wendy Robie turn in wickedly terrifying performances as the Robesons, and young Brandon Adams is one of the most likeable child actors in Horror movie history. I truly enjoyed revisiting the film on this brand new Collector’s Edition from Scream Factory.
Scream Factory delivers The People Under the Stairs onto Blu-Ray with the same fantastic transfer that accompanied the previous Universal release. The urban (and suburban) setting exhibits plenty of depth and clarity, with a beautiful color scheme that is respectful to the original theatrical presentation. The level of detail in facial features, clothing, and the terrifying house itself is spectacular. Black levels are solid, and there are no artifacts or damage to the print to report. Fans will be delighted with this clean, crisp, transfer of a modern-day Horror classic.
The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track is another standout addition to this Blu-Ray release. Everything from the unsettling score to dialogue and sound effects comes through very clean and clearly in HD surround. There are plenty of scary moments that definitely gave me a “jump” on this mix, and the audio is perfectly captured in tremendous detail across all channels.
Scream Factory has provided fans of The People Under the Stairs with an incredible selection of bonus features for this Blu-Ray release. This is truly a Collector’s Edition folks! Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentaries (2): There are two commentaries to choose from on this Blu-Ray edition including one featuring the Director himself, Wes Craven, and the other featuring Brandon Adams, A.J. Langer, Sean Whalen, and Yan Burg.
- House Mother with Wendy Robie– This incredible interview from Red Shirt Pictures lasts nearly 20 minutes and features actress Wendy Robie (“Woman”/Mrs. Robeson) discussing how she became involved with The People Under the Stairs, her background in Shakespeare and television roles, how the character of Hannibal Lecter inspired her audition, and the psychological profile she assumed to play the role of “woman.” Wendy discusses working with Wes Craven as well here, and further emphasizes the Director’s noteworthy likeability. My favorite sections of the interview have Wendy sharing stories from the late-night shooting schedule and the cast and crew deliriously cracking up after takes. Once again, this is a wonderful addition from Red Shirt Pictures to this Blu-Ray release.
- What Lies Beneath: The Effects of The People Under the Stairs– This 15 minute featurette from Red Shirt Pictures has KNB EFX pioneers Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, and Greg Nicotero (of The Walking Dead fame) discussing their involvement on The People Under the Stairs special effects work. I always find featurettes on makeup effects fascinating, and this one is no exception! The behind-the-scenes footage combined with the recollections of the KNB folks makes for some truly captivating material. I loved hearing about the development of these fantastic effects; from Ving Rhames’ life cast to Sean Whalen’s unique makeup, there is plenty to salivate over here for Horror fans!
- House of Horrors: With Director of Photography Sandi Sissel- This is yet another great interview from Red Shirt Pictures, coming in at over 16 minutes and featuring DP Sandi Sissel discussing her work on the film. Sandi’s career, starting out in documentaries and eventually making her way to big budget productions, offers up plenty of great stories.
- Settling the Score (with Don Peake)– This 10 minute interview with composer Don Peake offers up some insightful stories regarding the score for The People Under the Stairs. Don’s career is discussed in depth, beginning with his musical experience in High School and joining The Everly Brothers in the 1960’s to working in Hollywood. A very interesting guy with plenty of fascinating tales to tell.
- Behind the Scenes Footage– Nearly 7 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage from Greg Nicotero include the oft-discussed disemboweling scene and makeup preparation for the actors involved.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just over a minute and is just as enticing for potential viewers as it was back in 1991. The tagline for the film spoken over the terrifying imagery perfectly captures the tone. It’s a short one, but sometimes less is more.
- TV Spots- Just over a minute of select TV spots from the film’s theatrical campaign.
- Vintage Making of Featurette- This is actually just under 4 minutes of promotional material for the film partnered with select scenes. I especially enjoyed the black and white “vintage” footage of the actors discussing their roles.
- Original Storyboards- Just about 7 minutes worth of storyboards for various sequences from the film. You have to appreciate the amount of effort that goes into planning these unique and elaborate shots!
- Still Gallery- Roughly 4 minutes of behind-the-scenes photos and production stills from the making of The People Under the Stairs.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features what is quite possibly my favorite Scream Factory artwork yet! Justin Osbourne was commissioned to create this piece, which truly captures the atmosphere of the film. The purple color scheme is gorgeous, and the likeness of the actors is absolutely spot-on! On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, a list of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. On the interior of the slipcover is the standard Blu-Ray case, which has reversible artwork featuring the original theatrical poster for the film. The interior of the case features the Blu-Ray disc, also featuring artwork from the theatrical poster. This is absolutely one of my personal favorite packaging jobs from Scream Factory! Bravo.
The People Under the Stairs is a modern day Horror classic. The film offers up plenty of terrifying sequences, sadistically dark comedic moments, and a perfectly cast ensemble that delights in their over-the-top characters. It’s an endlessly re-watchable Horror treat, and fans will be overjoyed with this latest Collector’s Edition release from Scream Factory. This Blu-Ray edition features outstanding video and audio quality, and arrives loaded with fascinating special features for Horror fans. Justin Osbourne’s amazing cover art is yet another added bonus to what may be one of Scream Factory’s finest releases to date. Highly recommended!
Blu-Ray Review- The 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- Pumpkinhead: Collector’s Edition
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: September 9th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 86 Minutes
“For each of man’s evils, a special demon exists. You’re looking at vengeance, cruel, devious, pure-as-venom vengeance.”
–Haggis in Pumpkinhead
Released into theaters in 1988, Pumpkinhead remains one of the late, great Stan Winston’s few directorial efforts. Inspired by a creepy poem by Ed Justin, the film received a mixed reaction upon its theatrical release, but thankfully went on to develop a fervent cult following over the years from die-hard fans of the film (myself included). Simply put, it’s one of the best modern day fairy tales with a dark horror twist, and not only features outstanding performances from everyone involved, but one of the scariest creature designs in Horror history.
The opening prologue set in 1957 instantly conjures goose-bumps as we’re introduced to Tom Harley, his wife, and son Ed. Ed watches in horror as his father, shotgun in hand, locks up the horses, bars the door to their home, and waits patiently for something to emerge from the darkness of the woods. Soon a desperate and terrified man is running away from an unseen monster, and begins to pound on the Harley’s door for help. Tom refuses, citing his obligation to protect his family. The monster brutally kills the man as young Ed watches from his bedroom window.
Fast forward to the present day, and Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) is all grown up, a father himself to his young son Billy. They live on the very same farm that his family has passed down through the years, and run the local Harley & Son Grocery store. They have a wonderful father-son relationship built around unconditional love, daily routines, and story time around the dinner table. One day while tending to the store, a group of dirt-bike racers and their girlfriends from out of town use the dirt paths in the nearby fields to stage some trick jumps for photographs. With Ed having to run back home to grab some feed he promised to a customer, young Billy is left to take care of the store with his dog in tow. When the dog escapes into the dirt-bike racing path, Billy gives chase, getting run over by a dirt bike, and eventually dies from his injuries. Most of the bikers leave the scene, afraid of the consequences that will likely follow.
Heartbroken over the death of his son, and filled with rage toward the bikers, Ed Harley visits a creepy old woman in the middle of the woods who is able to conjure the Pumpkinhead demon from his slumber. Once brought back to life, Pumpkinhead begins to slay the out-of-towners one by one. A guilt-ridden Ed, able to telepathically “experience” the carnage as it happens, moves past his hate and grief to help the young folks in a final battle against Pumpkinhead. That’s all I’m going to say about the film, as this is definitely one you’ll want to experience for yourself.
Revisiting Pumpkinhead on this brand new Blu-Ray edition was an absolute treat! Stan Winston’s direction is masterful, highlighting the Southern Gothic atmosphere with sweat-drenched sunshine and fog-filled moonlight, nearly every scene leaps off the page of a fairy tale. The acting is superb, especially from Lance Henriksen and Matthew Hurley, who truly make an impact on the viewers as we experience their happiness and eventual devastation. I loved the opening moments between father and son; such a touching relationship that enhances the audiences involvement in the terrifying events that follow. The creature design on Pumpkinhead itself remains impressive, and made me smile reminiscing about the good old days of animatronics and practical effects. This is a modern day Horror classic as far as I’m concerned.
As a lifelong fan of Pumpkinhead, my anticipation was high for this Blu-Ray release, and I can say without a doubt that this is the best the film has ever looked on home video. The color grading is especially impressive, with the summer days drenched in golden hues, and the moonlight blues of the humid nights on bold display. The natural film grain has been left intact, and there is an abundance of detail in facial features, clothing, and the slimy skin of Pumpkinhead itself. The transfer is very clean to boot, with artifacts or anomalies to report. As Horror fans, we couldn’t ask for anything more, Pumpkinhead looks great in High Definition!
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is another high point, with dialogue, Richard Stone’s creepy score, and background effects coming through clean and clear on your home theater system. There is a nice balance to everything presented, from the quiet, peaceful opening scenes on Ed and Billy’s property, to the frenetic terror and action of the finale, everything sounds great in High Definition audio.
Scream Factory has provided fans of Pumpkinhead with a fully-loaded Collector’s Edition featuring some truly fantastic bonus material for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary– Featuring co-screenwriter Gary Gerani, creature & F/X creators Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis, and filmmaker/moderator Scott Spiegel, this is one of the better audio commentaries I’ve heard in some time. There is never a dull moment here, the group is talkative, informative, and relate some fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the making of the film.
- Pumpkinhead: Unearthed- Split into several chapters and lasting over an hour, this documentary from Red Shirt Pictures and Scream Factory delves into all things Pumpkinhead: from original concepts and design, to screenwriting and Stan Winston’s involvement, and casting to special effects, it doesn’t get any better than this for Horror fans! We also get to hear from the cast including Cynthia Bain, Kerry Remsen, Brian Bremer, Florence Schauffler, and Lance Henriksen among others. I particularly enjoyed Brian Bemer reminiscing about having to do multiple takes because he couldn’t stop laughing when Pumpkinhead found him in the closet. Lance Henriksen also provides some fun stories relating to how he was able to get into his character, from obtaining fake teeth to buying his own props to enhance the realism, he’s always fun to listen to. The ad-libbed line regarding his Grandmother washing his hands is touching. It’s an in-depth and revealing look behind-the-scenes of the production, and the cast and crew share some delightful stories. Great stuff!
- Pumpkinhead: Behind the Scenes- Scream Factory has provided some fascinating footage from the making of the film, including Tom Woodruff Jr. testing out the costume design for the first time, molding and painting the various pieces in the workshop, and testing the final suit with mechanical elements in place. This one runs a little over 7 minutes.
- Night of the Demon (w/Richard Weinman)- This is an extended interview with Richard Weinman (who co-wrote the story) from Red Shirt Pictures. Richard provides us details on his involvement in the film, how the production came to fruition, and some more in-depth details, some that were previously discussed in the aforementioned Unearthed documentary. Runs about 17 minutes.
- The Redemption of Joel (w/John D’Aquino)- One thing is certain, John D’Aquino possesses an anti-aging potion that he needs to bottle, sell, and provide to the masses! The man looks great! This is yet another extended interview from Red Shirt Pictures featuring the actor detailing his involvement in the film, his character’s bad choice and resulting consequences, and much more.
- The Boy with the Glasses (w/Matthew Hurley)- This great extended interview runs about 14 ½ minutes and features Matthew Hurley, who played young Billy Harley in the film. This is probably my favorite featurette on the disc behind the Unearthed documentary. Matthew talks about how he got involved in the film, coming from a Christian background and being involved in a Horror movie, working with Lance Henriksen and Stan Winston, and much more. Billy is such a vital and important character in Pumpkinhead, and it was a treat to listen to Matthew discussing his role as a child actor.
- Demonic Toys- This short segment runs nearly five minutes and features sculptor Jean St. Jean discussing his work on the Pumpkinhead design. He talks issues involving the design itself, including weighing and balancing the different features to make the creature work on film.
- Remembering the Monster Kid: A Tribute to Stan Winston- Lasting nearly 50 minutes, this is another standout documentary from Aine Leicht and Scream Factory involving various industry professionals, actors, and other relevant people remembering Stan Winston and the legendary work he left behind. This is wonderfully edited together, informative, and fun. What a legend!
- Still Gallery- About 14 minutes of production stills from the film in High Definition.
- Theatrical Trailer- I love and miss seeing that U/A logo! The original theatrical trailer for the film gives viewers a fairly good idea of what they’re in for with Pumpkinhead. It’s creepy, intense, and showcases the wonderful cinematography well.
- More from Scream Factory- Vintage trailers for other Scream Factory titles including Motel Hell, Squirm, and Without Warning.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features newly-commissioned artwork from fan-favorite artist Justin Osbourn on the slip-cover. Simply put, this is one of my all-time favorite pieces of art from their collection. You have Pumpkinhead creeping over the scenery, Lance Henriksen ready for action with pitchfork in hand, and the pumpkin patch graveyard sprawled across the landscape. The coloring is perfect, and the detail is stunning, evoking the ideal atmosphere to accompany this release. On the reverse of the slip, you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills. Inside the case is the disc artwork as well as a reversible slip-sheet for those that prefer the original theatrical poster design. This is a hauntingly beautiful looking set!
Pumpkinhead is a modern day Horror classic as far as I’m concerned, and revisiting the film on this brand new Blu-Ray edition was an absolute treat! Stan Winston’s direction is masterful, highlighting the Southern Gothic atmosphere with sweat-drenched sunshine and fog-filled moonlight. The creature design is outstanding, and the father-son relationship between Lance Henriksen and Matthew Hurley feels so real in moments of happiness and devastation, making for a twisted fairy tale that comes to life on screen. The picture quality is superb, highlighting the golden summer hues and blue moonlight fog with exceptional clarity, and the HD audio is well balanced and effective. Once again, it’s in the special features department that Scream Factory knocks it out of the park with some truly fantastic documentaries and featurettes. Pumpkinhead kicks off Scream Factory’s Fall Frights in spectacular fashion, and comes highly recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- The Legend of Hell House
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: August 26th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Runtime: 95 Minutes
“Although the story of this film is fictitious, the events depicted involving psychic phenomena are not only very much within the bounds of possibility, but could well be true.” –Tom Corbett, Clairvoyant and Psychic Consultant to European Royalty (From the opening scroll of The Legend of Hell House)
Based on the book by Richard Matheson (who also wrote the screenplay) and released into theaters in June 1973, The Legend of Hell House stars Clive Revill as Dr. Lionel Barrett, a physicist who is tasked with the challenge of proving the existence of life after death. After some hesitation, he proceeds to venture to the so-called “Mount Everest of haunted houses”: The Belasco House, which is more commonly referred to as “Hell House.”
Accompanying him on this trip into the supernatural is his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), renowned “mental” medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), and the sole survivor of the last investigation into Hell Houses’ secrets; “physical” medium Benjamin Franklin Fisher (Roddy McDowall). Upon their arrival, Benjamin explains, rather vaguely, some of the monstrosities that occurred in the house throughout its years under Mr. Belasco’s ownership. A grotesque and evil man, everything from murder to séances, and torture and necrophilia were common place. On their first night in the house, Florence conducts a prayer followed by a psychic channeling of the evil spirits that remain in Hell House, causing physical and vocal phenomena to emanate from her. It’s a truly unsettling scene.
As the spirits of the house continue to terrorize the unwelcome guests, trust begins to dwindle among the group, as Dr. Barrett suspects the hostile force to be a product of Florence’s doing, not Belasco’s son as she insists. Chandeliers crash and poltergeist fingernails terrorize, promiscuous ghosts seduce and black cats attack among other mayhems, as the group morale crumbles and Hell House takes hold of its victims.
I’m not sure I would count The Legend of Hell House among my favorite “haunted house” films. It’s a little stuffy, more than a little slow, and lacking much in the way of genuine scares. That’s not to say it’s an outright disappointment in the slightest. The film is a gorgeously produced modern gothic horror entry, with impeccably framed shots, some fun special effects for the time, and a particularly energetic performance from the always magnificent Roddy McDowall. The music from Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire adds to the creepy atmosphere to boot, sounding like some sort of macabre tribal music. For many Horror fans, this is a welcome addition to the Scream Factory line, and at the end of the day, it’s a genre film you can respect, even with a few bumps along the way.
Scream Factory brings The Legend of Hell House to Blu-Ray with an overall solid transfer. Colors look authentic, bold, and retain the look of the period. Film grain is natural and plentiful as well. There are sporadic artifacts and slight damage to the print in places, ranging from minimal scratches to a few burns, but as I’ve stated many times before, I tend to look at those anomalies as an added “bonus” to films of this genre. It makes for a fun grindhouse-style experience while watching at home. There are some hazy or soft shots, particularly in wide shots, but detail in facial features and clothing looks nice and solid in nearly every close-up.
The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track balances dialogue, the creepy tribal drum score, and background effects quite well. A slight crackling noise accompanies the audio in select scenes (similar to the natural audio static you hear in early sound films), but it seems likely to be inherent to the source. There are moments of surprising power here, especially when Hell House begins to wreak havoc on its victims, making for a fine home audio experience.
Scream Factory has provided fans of The Legend of Hell House with select special features for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary– This feature-length audio commentary with Actress Pamela Franklin is really laid back, fun, and informative for the viewer. Pamela reminisces about her costars, the sets, the Director, and more. Definitely a fun addition to this fine release.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer runs about 2 ½ minutes and definitely gives the viewer an idea of the bizarre and terrifying experience they’re in for with the film.
- The Story of Hell House: An Interview with Director John Hough- This nearly 30 minute extended interview from Scream Factory and Calum Waddell is a wonderful addition to this Blu-Ray release. Mixing High Definition interview footage with clips from the film, Director John Hough provides some fascinating insight into the making of The Legend of Hell House, from the hauntingly beautiful shooting location to his thoughts on the cast and performances, and much more. Well done!
- Photo Gallery- Nearly 3 minutes worth of production stills and behind-the-scenes photos from The Legend of Hell House, including some really beautiful black and white photos presented in High Definition.
- Radio Spots- Exactly two minutes worth of vintage radio commercials created during the theatrical campaign for The Legend of Hell House. You have to admire the great voice-over work and background effects here, definitely would have made me run to the theater to see it back in 1973.
- Also Available from Scream Factory- Vintage trailers for two other titles in the Scream Factory line including The Vampire Lovers and The Amityville Horror.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for The Legend of Hell House. It’s a creepy and effective cover, with the one-eyed skull dripping blood over Hell House, being held in the grip of a finely manicured hand. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, technical specifications, and a list of special features that accompany this Blu-Ray release. On the interior of the case is the Blu-Ray disc as well as some reversible cover art for those that prefer it.
Though I’m not sure I would count The Legend of Hell House among my personal favorite “haunted house” films, it remains a gorgeously produced modern gothic horror entry, with impeccably framed shots, some fun special effects for the time, and a particularly energetic performance from the always magnificent Roddy McDowall. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features overall solid picture quality that retains authentic color reproduction and nice fine object detail in close-up shots. The DTS-HD mono track nicely balances dialogue, the creepy score, and background effects as well. The special features are once again the standout aspect on this release, with a great extended interview with the Director of the film, an audio commentary from Pamela Franklin, and select other goodies. For many Horror fans, this is a welcome addition to the Scream Factory line, and at the end of the day, it’s a genre film you can respect, even with a few bumps along the way.
Blu-Ray Review- Leviathan
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: August 19th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 98 Minutes
Released in 1989 in direct competition with two other aquatic-themed science fiction films (Deep Star Six and The Abyss), Leviathan may not have blown away the critics or scored big at the Box Office, but it has slowly and rightfully developed a cult following over the years. Featuring one of the most underrated movie monsters in film history (designed by Stan Winston) and solid performances from a talented cast with great on-screen chemistry, Leviathan remains a wildly entertaining creature feature that deserves more recognition.
Directed by George P. Cosmatos, Leviathan stars Peter Weller as Steven Beck, geologist and captain of a deep sea mining crew in charge of mining for precious metals for the Tri-Oceanic Corporation. With only a few days left on the job, the crew is looking forward to getting back home to their families and back to the real world. The team consists of the always absent Dr. Glen Thompson (Richard Crenna), soon-to-be astronaut Elizabeth “Willie” Williams (the beautiful Amanda Pays), the horn-ball Buzz “Six-Pack” Parrish (Daniel Stern), the cool and calm Justin Jones (Ernie Hudson), and the seasoned veteran G.P. Cobb (Hector Elizondo) among others. Each of the ragtag crew are fully fleshed out in a short amount of time, letting the viewer inside their claustrophobic world of dirty jokes, pranks, and bitching about the job.
Things take a turn for the worse when two of the crew members fall off the mining platform and stumble upon a soviet shipwreck. Dr. Glen is able to translate the Russian name of the ship to Leviathan, a vessel that oddly shows up on “active duty” when they search their computer database. “Six-Pack” decides to bring a rusted safe back from the wreck, which the crew happily explores, finding some alcohol and other souvenirs. But that’s not all they brought back with them! One by one, the crew becomes sick with an unidentified virus that mutates them into a terrifying creature capable of absorbing their bodies and minds, and continuously sprouting horrifying appendages. With a hurricane on the surface affecting their escape, and an ever-growing list of excuses from Tri-Oceanic Corp as to why they can’t be rescued, the crew is forced to battle the creature and find their own way to survive.
Twenty-five years after its theatrical release, Leviathan remains an incredibly exciting creature feature with top-notch performances, brilliant special effects from Stan Winston, and exciting action sequences. While it may borrow elements from other movies in the genre, the execution from Director George P. Cosmatos is near perfection, leaving the viewer on the edge of their seat for the entirety of the film. Revisiting the film on Scream Factory’s brand new Blu-Ray edition was a treat, and makes for one of my favorite releases from their Summer of Fear lineup.
I was incredibly pleased with this transfer of Leviathan from Scream Factory, and this is without a doubt, the best it’s ever looked on home video. Color grading is important on a release like this, especially with a film that features such deep underwater blues and metallic shine, and the work here is consistently solid. Detail in facial features, clothing, the mining gear, and especially the creature itself is very clear in High Definition. The transfer is clean and virtually free from any artifacts or anomalies as well. The natural grain structure has been left intact, making for a beautiful and authentic presentation.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track sounds terrific on your home theater system, and I was actually taken aback by how dynamic and balanced this sounds in HD audio. The underwater mining station has some very fun background effects that envelop the audience, dialogue is always strong and clear, and the frenetic mayhem in the latter half of the film is powerful on this track.
Scream Factory has provided fans of Leviathan with an array of great special features for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Leviathan: Monster Melting Pot– This 40 minute documentary focuses mostly on Stan Winston’s creature effects, featuring entertaining stories and anecdotes from the team that worked closely with him, and is an absolute treat for Leviathan fans. This is very well assembled, mixing entertaining highlights from the individual interviews with clips from the film. Breaking down everything from concept drawings to effects rendering and assembly, as well as the occasional awkward tension and arguments between Stan and Director George P. Cosmatos (chalk it up to egos and creativity), this is yet another fine addition to the phenomenal special features that Scream Factory has come to be known for. The Leicht/Scream Factory team strikes again!
- Dissecting Cobb with Hector Elizondo- How can you not adore this guy? Hector Elizondo is fascinating to listen to, and comes off as such a seasoned professional and joyful human being. Discussing everything from the heavy fiberglass suits to a particularly claustrophobic moment on the set, he’s ridiculously entertaining! I loved hearing about the advice that Lee Marvin gave him on one of his first movies, as well as his thoughts on the late, great, Stan Winston.
- Surviving Leviathan with Ernie Hudson- Ernie Hudson sits down with the folks at Scream Factory to discuss his experience making the film. Ernie is very engaging from start to finish, discussing his thoughts on everything from the monster design (“I thought it looked like a chicken.”) to working with the politically incorrect George P. Cosmatos, and seeing the film with an audience in South Central, Los Angeles. I had no idea the filmmakers achieved the underwater segments by simply floating small feathers in the air underneath the actors. It’s very clear that Ernie didn’t agree with a particular death scene in the film as well…very clear. His stories are fun, and this extended interview is well put together!
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for Leviathan, fast paced and fun, and genuinely gives the viewer a decent look at what they’re in for.
- More from Scream Factory- Vintage trailers for other titles in the Scream Factory line including: Without Warning, Lake Placid, Saturn 3, and Swamp Thing.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for Leviathan (which also makes for a fun animated menu on the disc). The poster is one of my favorites! Honestly, who doesn’t remember that image, the tagline (“How long can you hold your breath?”), and those cheeks on Amanda Pays while perusing their local video store during their childhood? On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, a list of special features and technical specifications, as well as select production stills from the film. On the interior of the packaging is the Blu-Ray disc and some fun reversible cover art.
Twenty-five years after its theatrical release, Leviathan remains an incredibly exciting creature feature with top-notch performances, brilliant special effects from Stan Winston, and exciting action sequences. The Blu-Ray transfer from Scream Factory boasts impressive detail, authentic color reproduction, and is virtually artifact-free. I was taken aback by the dynamic power of the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track as well. Once again, the special features are the standout aspect of this release, with some truly terrific documentaries and interviews with the cast and crew from the film. Leviathan is one of my personal favorite titles from Scream Factory’s Summer of Fear lineup, and this brand new Blu-Ray edition comes highly recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Lake Placid
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: July 8th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 82 Minutes
The creature feature subgenre of Horror has always fascinated and terrified me, specifically, the aquatic monsters featured in movies like Creature from the Black Lagoon, Jaws, Piranha, and many more. The thought of being attacked from beneath, unable to scream, run, or even hear your attacker coming, gives me nightmares. I feel safe and secure swimming at the lake that surrounds my family cabin, but to this day, I’m more than a little edgy going into the ocean. In 1999, television writer David E. Kelly and Director Steve Miner teamed up to release Lake Placid, which works as both a modern day take on creature feature concept and a witty homage to B-movie cinema.
In the film, Paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) is reluctantly sent to Black Lake, Maine to assist in the investigation of a Fish and Game officer who was bitten in half by an unseen creature from beneath the water. Once there, she joins local Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson) and Fish and Game Officer Jack Wells (Bill Pullman). They’re an odd crew to say the least, and tempers flare even more when egotistical Professor of Mythology Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt) joins the search for the mysterious creature.
After a series of lethal encounters, including an overturned canoe, a severed toe, and the decapitation death of one of their crew, the team discovers that the creature they’re dealing with is a prehistoric 30-foot crocodile. And as it turns out, foul-mouthed lake resident Delores Bickerman (Betty White) knows more than she initially let on about this killer croc’s origins and feeding habits. As the bodies pile up, the team has to find a way to capture or kill this ancient behemoth to assure that the local community can be safe once more.
As always, I hesitate to say too much more about the plot of Lake Placid and let you enjoy this fun film for yourselves. Believe it or not, the main draw of the film (and repeat watch factor) is the witty and creative dialogue from screenwriter David E. Kelly. The dialogue is consistently fresh and playful, and the humor is very dark and fitting. Lake Placid plays more like a tribute or homage to the B-movie creature features of yesteryear than a straight horror film, but offers plenty of unique kills and bloodshed for those that require it. The characters are extremely well written, and in turn, creatively played by the cast involved, which is something unique for a film of this genre. I really enjoyed revisiting Lake Placid after all these years, and it’s the perfect summer entertainment for horror fans.
Fans of Lake Placid can rest assured that the film looks great in High Definition. Some of Scream Factory’s abundant admirers seemed worried that this transfer might be plagued with some of the picture quality issues that their most recent license from Fox (Ravenous) displayed. There is no reason for concern here, and point of fact, this is a strong video presentation. Film grain looks natural and authentic, and textures and fine object detail in clothing, crocodile scales, and the surrounding woods of the lake is very clear. Colors are also accurately reproduced here, with the golden-hued and forest green color scheme really coming to life. There are no signs of digital noise reduction, and the print is relatively free of artifacts or scratches, making for a fantastic video presentation.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track featured here represents the film well on Blu-Ray. Dialogue, music, and sound effects are all equally balanced across your home entertainment system in a surprisingly dynamic presentation. From the larger scale action scenes (crocodile chomps, boat motors, helicopter blades) to the films quieter moments (birds chirping, crickets on the lake), this audio presentation is respectful to the source and enhances this fun B-movie for home viewing.
Scream Factory has given fans of Lake Placid the deluxe treatment on this brand new Blu-Ray edition. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- The Making of Lake Placid– This brand new HD documentary runs over thirty minutes and features interviews with the likes of Actor Bill Pullman, Director Steve Miner, Editor Marshall Harvey, Cinematographer Daryn Okada, and many more. The cast and crew discuss David Kelly’s witty script, the blend of animatronics and CGI used to bring the crocodile to life, the enormous water tank used in production, Betty White’s time on the set, and other fun details from filming. I especially enjoyed the story that Nick Marra (effects supervisor) told about the grizzly bear being scared of the animatronic crocodile. This is another standout job from Scream Factory and crew.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer is presented in standard definition and runs just under two minutes. This is a classic 90’s preview, with the “smoky” tone voiceover and recycled climactic music from Aliens, and offered theatrical audiences a good taste of the humor and mayhem from the film.
- Featurette- This featurette includes what appears to be carried over interview footage from the previous Fox DVD release that has been edited together with film footage from the new high definition transfer. It runs a little over five minutes, and is presented in standard definition.
- TV Spots- Roughly a minute and a half of television promos for Lake Placid that ran during the original theatrical campaign for the film. Like the aforementioned trailer, these little clips help establish the fun and campy nature of the film.
- Croc Test Footage- This is over seven minutes of camcorder footage (no audio) from the filming during the summer of 1998. Just a few test shots from the animatronic designers to make sure the mouth, nostrils, and eyes were working on the crocodile.
- Behind the Scenes Gallery- Over five minutes of fun behind-the-scenes photos and production stills from the making of the film. I especially enjoyed seeing the various camera rigs and mechanical elements used to make the crocodile come to life.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory includes newly commissioned artwork from artist Robert O’Brien. I love the postcard style utilized here, and really appreciate the minimalist approach that really evokes terror. It’s clean, simple, and uncluttered. On the reverse of the slipcover you’ll find a plot synopsis, production stills, a list of special features, and the technical specifications for this release. On the inside of the packaging, you’ll find the Blu-Ray disc with some nice artwork, and a reversible slip-sheet featuring the original theatrical poster design for the film. Very well done!
If you’re like me, and “creature feature” horror is your thing, you’ll get a kick out of Lake Placid. This self-aware B movie homage is well written, funny, and offers up more than a few “light” scares. It’s a shame that most of the subgenre films today are relegated to television films, because Lake Placid demonstrates how you can make a fun, campy, big-budget creature feature that is a hit with audiences and (most) critics alike. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features an outstanding video presentation with authentic film grain and natural colors, and an audio presentation with a surprisingly dynamic range. Special Features are top notch as well here, especially the brand new documentary made for this release. All in all, this might just be my favorite release from Scream Factory’s “Summer of Fear” thus far. Lake Placid comes Highly Recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- 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.
Blu-Ray Review- Sleepaway Camp
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: May 27th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 85 Minutes
Ah…the Summer Camp slasher films of the 1980’s. From Friday the 13th to The Burning, there are an abundance of fun movies in this subgenre that have become yearly staples for a Horror fans’ summer viewing experience. It’s an odd cocktail of entertainment we’re talking about here: a blended concoction of the innocence of youth, being away from the watchful eyes of our parents, and an evil stranger hacking our peers to death. Sleepaway Camp is a bizarre but extremely memorable entry, standing alone in a class of films that often feature repetitive villains, deaths, and characters. I will never forget seeing it for the first time during a sleepover as a teenager, my jaw literally hanging open in shock during the ending moments, as goose bumps tingled up my spine and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Though for some it may be a chore to get there, once you’ve been, it’s a film that you will revisit time and time again and appreciate anew with each subsequent viewing.
Eight years after a terrible boating accident kills her Father and brother, Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) now lives with her whack-a-doodle Aunt Martha and her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tierston). Sent off to Camp Arawak for the summer, the shy and withdrawn Angela quickly experiences bullying and torment from her peers, and Ricky is always there to defend her. Though a dash of romance could be in the cards for Angela when fellow camper Paul takes a liking to her, the atmosphere at Camp Arawak has grown increasingly eerie as campers begin to turn up dead. But who could be the killer? Could it be the snotty and flirtatious Judy? Perhaps even the shy and withdrawn Angela? Or even a cousin who is fed up with her sister’s tormentors? Half the fun of Sleepaway Camp is the journey in answering that very question, and the resulting answer will not only shock you, but it will remain engrained in your memory long after viewing.
Benefitting from its naïve charm and creepy atmosphere, Sleepaway Camp remains one of the better slasher films from the era. Sure, it features some wooden and hammy performances, some incredibly creepy characters (the cook), and cheesy dialogue that will have you howling at parts, but it’s about the whole package. As I stated before, it is a film that Horror fans will revisit time and time again and appreciate the corny performances (Aunt Martha is a standout), the fun kills and makeup effects, and the rather genius ending that will haunt your dreams.
Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray release of Sleepaway Camp is, simply put, stunning. Featuring a transfer from a 2K scan of the original camera negative, this company has gone above and beyond to treat fans of the film with a beautiful viewing experience. Film grain is intact here and authentic to the time period, with no digital scrubbing to be seen. Colors look better than ever, with the lush green lawns of the camp and clear blue water of the lake in full view. But the standout aspect of this presentation is the fine detail; from hair to clothing, the textures look incredible. There is some minor damage to the print from time to time, but this is to be expected from a film this old. For Horror fans and Blu-Ray aficionados, this is as good as it gets, and I can guarantee that you have never seen Sleepaway Camp look this incredible.
The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track provided here suits the film very well. All of the dialogue comes through clean and clear, background noise at the camp (birds chirping, water splashing, crickets chirping) sound great and never “tinny”, and escalating swells in the score are handled nicely. I was surprised how dynamic this seemed for a mono track. Fans will be pleased with its authenticity and power.
Scream Factory has once again gone above and beyond to include some amazing special features for fans of the film. Though I do question the inclusion of a couple of them, the majority of these features are fantastic. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- At the Waterfront after the Social: The Legacy of Sleepaway Camp– Running over 45 minutes, this documentary from Scream Factory and Justin Beahm’s Reverend Entertainment is the standout feature on a release already jam-packed with gems. We not only get the opportunity to hear from cast members such as Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tierston, Karen Fields, and more, but the amount of depth and detail the cast and crew go into regarding the development of the film is incredible. From how the cast members won over their director during auditions to the screenwriting and filming process and on-set crushes, there is truly something for everyone here. The behind-the-scenes discussion and special effects that went into a particular scene from the ending, is especially hilarious and engaging. The entertainment factor aside, Justin Beahm and Scream Factory have delivered the goods to the Horror fan-base with a top quality documentary filmed in high definition with great title logos and animations. The final shot of Felissa becoming emotional discussing the impact of the film is especially sincere and moving. Excellent work.
- Judy: A Short film by Jeff Hayes- Judy is an incredibly silly low budget short film from Jeff Hayes, the webmaster at sleepawaycampmovies.com. Featuring Karen Fields reprising her role from Sleepaway Camp, the ridiculous plot has Judy exacting revenge on a flirtatious married man. It’s fun seeing Karen bring back her Judy-tude, but the majority of this is mostly cringe worthy. Sorry Jeff!
- Princess: A Music Video by Jonathan Tierston- Actually titled The Princess, this music video from Jonathan Tierston is not related to the film in the slightest. Though it features some nice camerawork, it’s five minutes worth of b-i-z-a-r-r-o lyrics and awkward lip-syncing with Jonathan promoting his music career. This wasn’t for me, and I’ll leave it at that.
- Camp Arawak Scrapbook- Over nine minutes worth of behind-the-scenes pictures from the cast and crew. Everyone involved clearly had fun making the movie, and it’s nice that these were preserved over the years and included on this release for fans of the film.
- Theatrical Trailer & TV Spots- The original theatrical trailer and two television spots are included back-to-back. You have to appreciate the campy voiceover and out-of-context footage used to promote the film. I could watch 80’s Horror previews all day long, so this was a short and sweet treat.
- Rare Images from Make-up effects artist Ed French- Roughly a minute and a half worth of rare storyboard drawings for the makeup and effects shots featured in the film. Though it’s a short montage, there are some fascinating pictures here from Ed French’s archive, and the final effects they achieved are impressive for a low budget horror film.
- A Demonstration of the 2K film scan process- Ian Turpen at Technicolor runs us through the impressive 2K scanning process that Sleepaway Camp underwent for this Blu-Ray release. Running exactly nine minutes long, this segment reminded me of some of the restoration featurettes that the Criterion Collection and Arrow Video have included on their releases before. Though it’s a welcome addition to this release and we get some interesting technical information on the scanners themselves, we never get to see a “before and after” shot of the print. It’s even more confusing that the footage from the film that is included in this segment is all in standard definition. I would recommend the half-screen comparison shot next time interspersed with footage from the Technicolor labs. That slight criticism aside, as mentioned above, the transfer on this release is simply stunning and I’m so glad that Scream Factory went the extra mile to deliver a 2K scan for the Blu-Ray release.
- Audio Commentaries (3)- Scream Factory was kind enough to include three audio commentaries on this release. The first features actors Felissa Rose and Jonathan Tierston, the second Director Robert Hiltzik (moderated by Jeff Hayes), and the third features both Hiltzik and Rose. Felissa and Jonathan’s commentary is especially fun and the two obviously enjoyed their experience working together all those years ago, and seem appreciative of the enormous cult fan-base their movie has now.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory features newly commissioned artwork on the slipcover from fan favorite artist, Nathan Thomas Milliner. There is little doubt that Milliner captured the spirit of the film with his atmospheric and brutal art for this release. For nostalgic purists, Scream Factory has also included the original theatrical artwork as a reversible case slip with the classic “knife through the tennis shoe” design. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis along with the aforementioned special features listed. The interior of the case includes some nice disc art to boot.
Sleepaway Camp remains a bizarre and shocking entry in the summer camp sub-genre of 80’s slasher films, and one of my personal favorites. Scream Factory has gone above and beyond to provide an absolutely gorgeous 2K scan of the original camera negative, a surprisingly dynamic and authentic HD mono audio track, and a wealth of bonus material to peruse for fans. Special marks have to be given for the beyond entertaining At the Waterfront after the Social: The Legacy of Sleepaway Camp from Justin Beahm, which will go down as one of the definitive bonus feature documentaries of 2014. Highly Recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Final Exam
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: May 13th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 94 Minutes
“Some may pass the test…God help the rest.”
How could a filmmaker break away from the conventional slasher movies of the early 1980’s? If they took time to establish the characters, composed a simple yet unnerving score, and featured quality camera work, it might be possible. Jimmy Huston’s 1981 film Final Exam did exactly that, and while it’s not a superb Horror movie by any means, it’s certainly an underrated entry in the genre.
Following the rather typical opening involving the bloodless slashing of a couple parked lakeside for a midnight rendezvous, we proceed to Lanier College. It’s the end of the trimester, and students and staff are anxious to be through with final exams and eager to party, pack-up, and head home. We’re introduced to a stereotypical cast of characters: the jock “Wildman”, the macabre-obsessed nerd Radish, the naïve yet book-smart Courtney, the promiscuous Lisa, sleazy professors, and more.
Things start to look grim for our college friends when the knife-wielding killer from the nearby March college murders begins to pick them off, one by one. It doesn’t help that local police are hesitant to respond to distress calls after the Gamma Fraternity’s latest prank.
It’s easy to see how a film like Final Exam could have been lost in the shuffle of 80’s slasher films, only to recently be rediscovered and appreciated by a new generation of fans. The plot isn’t all that original, the characters (at a glance) are stereotypical, and it features yet another faceless maniac with mysterious motives. The difference here is absolutely in the execution, and Final Exam captured my attention from start to finish. The cast puts quite a bit of effort into making their characters believable, and for a genre film, the script isn’t half bad. Also worth noting is the impressive camera angles and cinematography, which again, is against the norm for the genre and period. An extended tracking shot through a dorm hallway, blood spraying on painted canvases, and the first person perspective of an automated dishwashing machine are just a few of the unique filmmaking examples within.
Those looking for a gore-fest may be slightly disappointed, as the majority of the kills feature little to no blood. But the nostalgia factor is huge here: from the early 80’s cheek-high gym shorts on DeAnna Robbins to the elaborately coiffed hair on the men, just add a dose of Horror into the mix, and you have yourself a highly entertaining concoction for a rainy Saturday night.
Working from a brand High Definition print taken from the original camera negative (courtesy of Code Red), Scream Factory has unleashed Final Exam onto Blu-Ray with a respectable transfer. While I got a little worried during the opening credits, which features a lot of scratches and spots, things clean up pretty quickly after that. The college campus features lush green lawns, character clothing and interior sets are well detailed and defined, and fine object detail is surprisingly clear, considering the age and film stock utilized. There are a few quick moments of light print damage throughout, but for the most part, there is a nice balance to the overall image, and the entire feature is devoid of any intrusive digital noise reduction or edge enhancement. This is clearly the best Final Exam has ever looked on home video.
The DTS-HD audio herein sounds authentic to the time period and budget of a film like this, and frankly, I was surprised by the dynamic power of this mono track. The creepy score by Gary Scott will be stuck in your head for days after viewing, and it sounds great here. Dialogue comes through very clean and clear, with the peak “kill” musical ascension working well enough to make me jump more than a few times. Background noise is appropriately balanced, such as birds chirping on campus during the daytime scenes, or papers and pencils shuffling in class. This is another area of strength on this release.
Scream Factory and Code Red have teamed up to provide a few worthwhile bonus features here, in fact, it’s more than enough to satisfy the niche audience that a film like this attracts. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary: The included commentary features some fun insight into the making of the film from actors Joel Rice, Cecile Bagdadi, and Sherry Willis-Burch. Though they do seem to talk over each other quite a bit, it’s an engaging commentary and the featured cast seems to have a fun time reminiscing about their past efforts, as well as what they’ve been up to lately.
- Interviews: Featuring a static camera angle of the individual actors on a couch, these aren’t the usual polished and well-edited interviews we’ve come to expect from Scream Factory’s previous releases, but it’s less about the production and more about the fun content. We get recently filmed interviews from cast members Joel Rice (Radish), Cecile Bagdadi (Courtney), and Sherry Willis-Burch (Janet). The questions posed to the actors are presented as simple white type against a black backdrop, with the filmed responses thereafter. Joel Rice is especially fun to listen to here, with some fun memories to share from the making of the movie. It would have been fun to see if anyone could have tracked down DeAnna Robbins, as she seems to have disappeared from the acting world in the late 1980’s.
- Theatrical Trailer: Running about a minute and a half, this original trailer is in very rough shape, but it’s still fun to have it included on the release.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory comes with a stylish cover art design featuring the original theatrical poster for the film: the killer’s silhouette cast against the Lanier college campus backdrop on a full moon night. It definitely captures the mood of the film. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a synopsis for the film, the aforementioned special features listed, and a few technical specifications. On the inside you’ll find some nice disc art that mirrors the cover art, and a bloody background design. Well done!
What Final Exam lacks in originality, it makes up for with a fun script, eerie score, dedicated genre performances, and unique cinematography. The Blu-Ray from Scream Factory retains authentic film grain and accurate color reproduction, but features frequent light damage throughout. The good news is that for the Horror genre, those minor issues often just add to the nostalgia factor. The audio track delivers the dialogue and chills appropriately, and there are some fun special features included as well. I had a great time with Final Exam, and it’s the perfect 80’s slasher for a stormy spring night. Recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Dead Shadows
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: April 29th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, English Subtitles
Runtime(s): 74 Minutes
At the beginning of David Cholewa’s Dead Shadows, strange black tentacles appear in the outer universe, and as they form a black hole, a meteor emerges. The glowing meteor breaks apart as it enters Earth’s atmosphere, leaving small particles strewn in its wake. Young Chris wakes after hearing some commotion, only to find his Stepfather slashing his Mother’s face in the kitchen. Fast-forward to ten years later, Chris is now in his early twenties and “working” as an over-the-phone computer support specialist. Of course he would much rather play video games than actually help any of his customers.
After a short run-in with neighborhood bullies and end-is-nigh spouting alcoholics, David finally gets a chance to meet the beautiful Claire, the neighbor across the hall from his apartment. David is shy and soft-spoken, and Claire is sarcastic and forward. After some small talk, David agrees to attend the “end of the world” party down the block to celebrate the passing of another comet.
The promising party quickly turns sour, thanks to some melting faces, mutated alien genitalia, and other creepy comet shenanigans. Making his way back to his apartment, David is soon forced to overcome his fear of the dark and troubled past to take on the alien invaders. With a little help from his samurai sword-wielding neighbor, and a couple of baseball bats, he just might get the job done. Or will he become part of the problem?
Dead Shadows is an odd genre mix, produced on a low budget, and seemingly cobbled together from other, better films. One of the main problems with the film is its odd length and frantic timing, with the main action sequences saved for the last twenty minutes of the movie. It’s a shame because the first 40 minutes or so had me hooked, even with a lack of originality, it kept my interest with it’s ominous opening and creepy musical score by Kevin Riepl. But alas the creatures are very Cronenberg-esque, the CGI effects are a bit sloppy, and the editing is inconsistent (count the fade-to-black moments), resulting in a forgettable film experience.
Those who have followed me here from The Film Fan Channel know that I am a huge supporter of Scream Factory and their mission. They are without a doubt the best company distributing Horror titles right now, ever mindful of pleasing the fans while crafting a quality product line of cult-classics Horror titles. But I’ll be honest with you: whenever Scream Factory announces a modern film title (like the Chiller TV entries they have put out), I get a little nervous. The anxiety, unfortunately, was substantiated here.
Dead Shadows looks pretty good in High Definition from Scream Factory. There are moments, usually during the visual effects sequences, where parts of the picture seem pixelated or soft, but then it quickly clears up in the next shot. When evaluating the picture quality, you do have to take into account the production budget and digital development Dead Shadows was filmed with, which wasn’t exactly high end. The overall look of the film has a slight blue-green tint. Fine object detail is never stand-out, but color reproduction is relatively good and this is likely an accurate representation of what it looked like theatrically.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio here works well. Dialogue (in French) comes through clean and clear, the music is well balanced, and sound effects and background noise are integrated just fine. It won’t blow you away or wake the neighbors, but it gets the job done. Whatever you do, watch the film in French with English subtitles. I briefly turned on the English dub to test it out, and very quickly changed back.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Interview with David Cholewa: Running over thirty minutes in length, this extended interview with the Director is in French with English subtitles. Clearly a fan of the genre and with the best intentions in mind, David Cholewa is interesting to hear from. The interview questions come in title cards with a static shot of Cholewa answering to the camera. This isn’t the usual well-made interview featurette from Scream Factory, but it’s obvious that they didn’t have much to do with making this particular segment.
- Making of Special Effects: This short featurette runs nearly four minutes and is a simple before and after look at several sequences from the film, before and after the CGI effects were added. There is no commentary throughout this, just a song that plays over the visuals.
- Deleted Scenes: Not exactly what you expect. This is forty-nine seconds of slightly extended scenes that were already in the film including the aforementioned mutated genitalia (which looks slightly different), a practical effect shot of an arm falling off, and a tentacle arm effect shot.
- Unfinished VFX Scene: Yet another strange and short (32 seconds) segment from the end of the film where a human-faced alien slug slithers in the background.
- Trailer: The original theatrical trailer for the film.
- Teaser Trailer: The original teaser trailer.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Scream Factory release comes with a nice slipcover as well as reversible artwork and disc art. Though I wasn’t crazy about the film itself, I really dig the cover art here, and it’s an all-around nice looking package.
I went into Dead Shadows with a positive attitude and ready for fun, but what I experienced was an odd genre mix that just didn’t work for me. Heavy on borrowed elements, poor CGI effects, and a disappointing finale, this is rental material at best. The good news is that Scream Factory (as always) has included some worthwhile bonus features for fans, and the picture and audio quality get the job done. Luckily this great company has some terrific catalog classics up their sleeves for their upcoming Summer of Fear.