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Howling II Blu-Ray Review

Blu-Ray Review- Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf

Distributor: Scream Factory

Street Date: July 14th 2015

Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono

Runtime: 91 Minutes

Howling II (Scream Factory)

Howling II (Scream Factory)

The Film:

Few would argue with the fact that Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is the very definition of a bad movie. One could also argue that this is the very reason why it’s so incredibly enjoyable. Absent from this sequel are the stylish storytelling, horrifying werewolf effects, and creeping suspense of Joe Dante’s original film. But what exactly does Howling II offer up for Horror fans? Horror legend Christopher Lee hamming it up with every line delivery, Sybil Danning’s incredible body and less-than-stellar acting abilities, random out-of-sequence editing that completely confuses the viewer, and an 80’s rock soundtrack complete with synthesizer and title-referencing music that is just about as cheesy as can be. It’s an endlessly enjoyable hodge-podge of self-referential humor, over-the-top performances, and terrible screenwriting. For B movie fans (those who get an insane kick out of MST3K style humor), Howling II is right up your alley!

The film attempts to pick up directly where Dante’s original left off, with the funeral for Karen White taking place and her brother Ben (Reb Brown) in mourning. Soon a mysterious man named Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee) appears and attempts to convince Ben that his sister’s death was more complicated than he realizes, and that his sister was, in fact, a werewolf. Though Dee Wallace is entirely absent from this sequel and the actress that replaces her will never be confused as her doppelganger, we’re soon introduced to the completely ridiculous “lost” footage of Karen’s violent death. Pay no mind to this sequence being completely different than the ending of the first film. No mind at all. Ben and Karen’s former colleague Jenny (Annie McEnroe) are soon not only convinced of his sister’s affliction, but of the entire underground existence of werewolves that threaten the human race. Stefan soon convinces Ben and Jenny to travel all the way to Transylvania to battle the queen of the werewolves, the incredibly sexy Stirba (Sybil Danning). This task, of course, turns out to be more difficult than any of them could imagine.

Howling II is one of those rainy day B movies that bad film aficionados can appreciate on so many levels. It’s also one that requires time to fully appreciate its awkwardness and charm. I remember seeing the first Howling as a teenager, absolutely loving it, and running straight back to the video store to get the sequel. Saying I was disappointed by what I saw that night would be an understatement when compared to the first film. But then something strange happened…I rented it again. Perhaps it was my burgeoning manhood craving countless playbacks of Sybil Danning’s best moments. Whatever the case may be, I’ve since been able to appreciate the film on that “next level”, savoring every moment of pure ridiculousness. With that being said, Howling II on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory comes highly recommended.

Video Quality:

Rest assured Horror fans (and bad movie aficionados); Howling II looks fantastic on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory! The natural film grain is plentiful, colors look accurate for the time period, and digital manipulation is entirely absent from the print. It should, and does, look like film. Scratches and slight damage occasionally rear their head, but they are few and far between. Facial features and fine object detail, while not the strongest I’ve seen for the decade, look quite clear here in High Definition.

Audio Quality:

The 2.0 DTS-HD audio track is a solid one, regularly balancing dialogue, background effects, and the cheesy score in fine fashion. There is a lack of power and depth to the overall experience, which is to be expected, but when paired with the great video, it makes for a finely presented experience.

Special Features:

Scream Factory has given Howling II a fantastic array of bonus features that will surely make you bark at the moon with joy. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:

  • Audio Commentaries (2) – Scream Factory has provided fans with two commentaries on this brand new Blu-Ray edition. The first commentary features Director Philippe Mora and the second has composer Steve Parsons and Editor Charles Bornstein. Both commentaries are informative for fans of the film and franchise!
  • Leading Man: An Interview with Actor Reb Brown- This brand new HD interview from Red Shirt Pictures features actor Reb Brown and runs nearly 14 minutes. It’s an absolute blast hearing from Reb, who was a club bouncer and training to be a Sheriff when he was noticed by casting agents and hired as a contract actor at Universal. Reb comes across as a delightful man, more football coach than Hollywood actor, and offers up some insightful stories regarding his career and the making of Howling II.
  • Queen of the Werewolves: An Interview with Actress Sybil Danning- This 17 minute interview has the still gorgeous Sybil Danning sharing her behind-the-scenes stories regarding the making of Howling II. Sybil is honest and forthright about her career, starting out as a model in Germany and making her way to Hollywood to star in films. Hearing Sybil discuss being a tomboy as a child and utilizing her imagination to “become” various characters growing up was especially enjoyable. Sybil’s stories about having dinner with Christopher Lee while being watched by the KGB is also a highlight! Great stuff!
  • A Monkey Phase: Interviews with Special Make-Up Effects Artists Steve Johnson and Scott Wheeler- This featurette runs 15 ½ minutes and features fantastic interviews with the makeup guys behind the film. Both artists discuss the beginnings in the industry and films they worked on before joining the team behind Howling II, the unique special effects and challenges for their team behind the scenes, and much more.
  • Alternate Opening-The alternate opening for the film runs 10 ½ minutes and features just a few alternate takes on specific scenes mostly consisting of some trimming of Christopher Lee and company talking after the funeral. There is really not too much of a difference here as I was straining to figure out exactly what had been cut or edited between the two.
  • Alternate Ending- The alternate ending runs roughly 9 ½ minutes, and much like the aforementioned alternate opening, doesn’t offer very much as far as unique differences. A few shots are extended or trimmed compared to the theatrical cut. Both versions luckily still feature Sybil Danning tearing off her clothes.
  • Behind the Scenes- This behind-the-scenes montage offers up some fun outtakes with the special effects crew and Director Philippe Mora work and runs nearly 4 minutes.
  • Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film lasts just over a minute in length and gives viewers a good general idea of the B-movie mayhem they’re in for with Howling II.
  • Still Gallery- Just over 8 minutes of behind-the-scenes photos and production stills that play along to the rockin’ 80’s theme from the film.

The Packaging:

This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover, which is one of my personal favorite 80’s posters. You definitely get the feeling of the silliness of the film (red lipstick and sunglasses) with the art included here. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the disc as well as some nice reversible artwork that fans can choose to display instead of the poster art.

Howling II (reverse)

Howling II (reverse)

Howling II (interior)

Howling II (interior)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Report:

Few would argue with the fact that Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is the very definition of a bad movie. One could also argue that this is the very reason why it’s so incredibly enjoyable. It’s one of those rainy day B movies that bad film aficionados can appreciate on so many levels, but also requires repeated viewings to fully appreciate its awkwardness and charm. The Blu-Ray presentation from Scream Factory is fantastic, with great video and audio that makes for a well-rounded presentation in High Definition. But it’s in the bonus features where Scream Factory will truly delight fans, with plenty of great interviews and featurettes with the cast and crew. Though disappointed with my first viewing as a young man, Sybil Danning kept bringing me back for repeat viewings. I’ve since been able to appreciate the film on that “next level”, savoring every moment of pure ridiculousness. With that being said, Howling II on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory comes highly recommended.

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre


Top Ten Hi-Def Horror Releases of 2014

Doctor Macabre's Top Ten Hi-Def Horror Releases of 2014

Doctor Macabre’s Top Ten Hi-Def Horror Releases of 2014

Doctor Macabre’s Top Ten Hi-Def Horror Releases of 2014:

There is no denying that 2014 was a stand-out year for Horror when it comes to Home Video releases. Exciting would be an understatement. Not since my teenage years in the mid to late 90’s; saving up my lawn-mowing cash to pre-order the latest Anchor Bay tin set at Suncoast Video, has there been a time as good as this for fans of the genre. I found those sentiments echoed throughout the Horror community lately. It was simply a great year to be a Horror aficionado. And who do we have to thank for that? The fine folks at Scream Factory, Synapse Films, Scorpion Releasing, Blue Underground, Kino Lorber, and Grindhouse Releasing to name just a few. Their dedication to the genre, attention to detail on video transfers and extras, and pure willingness to go above and beyond to please the fans deserves admiration and applause.

2014 saw the release of a multitude of titles that many of us never saw coming, including the Halloween 6 Producer’s Cut and the Director’s Cut of Nightbreed. We saw the painstakingly beautiful efforts of 4K restorations on titles like Sleepaway Camp, Prom Night, and Curtains. And let’s not forget the incredible documentaries and featurettes included on these releases from the likes of Aine Leicht and Red Shirt Pictures. The bottom line is this: we were spoiled beyond belief this past year, and here’s to more of the same in 2015.

Without further ado, the following are my personal Top 10 picks for the very best 2014 had to offer when it came to Horror films on Blu-Ray (counting down from 10 to 1):

Countess Dracula (Synapse Films)

Countess Dracula (Synapse Films)

  1. Countess Dracula (Synapse Films)

*Besides the fact that this Hammer release is a gorgeous gothic delight all on its own (with the beautiful and sultry Ingrid Pitt in the title role), but Synapse Films delivered it masterfully in High Definition. Featuring a breathtaking new transfer and the fantastic (if short) Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt featurette touching on her heartbreaking childhood spent in a concentration camp, her escape via river from Berlin (being pulled out of the water by a US soldier whom she would later marry), and beginnings in Hollywood, it’s a fascinating piece on an underrated actress. Complete with reversible cover art and a solid audio track, this one easily made my list.

Deadly Eyes (Scream Factory)

Deadly Eyes (Scream Factory)

  1. Deadly Eyes (Scream Factory)

*How can one go wrong with dachshunds in rat suits chasing Scatman Crothers down a sewer drain? This movie is simply too much fun, with earnest performances and goofy practical effects, it’s pure camp entertainment that remains one of my favorite 80’s Horror entries to revisit. Producer Aine Leicht’s Deadly Eyes: Dogs in Rat’s Clothing documentary is an absolute hoot too, with fun interviews and insight into the making of the film. Scorpion Releasing adds a few bonus features on this Scream release as well, rounding out this great disc (with solid picture and audio quality).

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Kino Lorber)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Kino Lorber)

  1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Kino Lorber)

*Along with F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, this is one of my favorite Horror pieces from early German cinema. It’s incredibly well made, with plenty of memorable set designs and costumes that have gone on to inspire Horror auteurs that would soon follow. The imagery is endlessly spooky and haunting, and it looks simply stunning in this brand new 4K scan on Blu-Ray from Kino. With two separate HD audio tracks (one by DJ Spooky!) and the captivating documentary Caligari: How Horror Came to Cinema, there is so much to love on this release for fans of the film.

The Vincent Price Collection II (Scream Factory)

The Vincent Price Collection II (Scream Factory)

  1. The Vincent Price Collection II (Scream Factory)

*There is nothing in cinema quite as calming or comforting to me as sitting down and enjoying a good ol’ Vincent Price movie marathon. He is, without a doubt, my favorite Horror icon. The man simply knew how to deliver the goods to his audience, and delighted in the fandom of the genre that he understood so well. With a simple tweak of an eyebrow, or escalation in his vocal tone, the man was endlessly watchable on the silver screen. Scream Factory’s Volume II collection includes some wonderful films from his outstanding career including: The Raven, The Comedy of Terrors, The Tomb of Ligeia, The Last Man on Earth, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, The Return of the Fly, and House on Haunted Hill. They’ve also included an array of great special features on every disc including commentaries, featurettes, and my personal favorite, Iowa Public Television’s Gothic Horror introductions starring the man himself. Joel Robinson’s perfectly rendered artwork rounds out this great collection.

The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season (Anchor Bay)

The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season (Anchor Bay)

  1. The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season (Anchor Bay)

*From the disease spreading among Rick and his band of survivors holed up in the abandoned prison to the Governor’s assault and subsequent heartbreak for fans of the show, Season Four of The Walking Dead offers up the very best in television entertainment. Whenever I encounter someone who hasn’t seen the series and dismisses it as “that Zombie show”, I have to shake my head. This series just keeps getting better and better, and zombies are a mere backdrop in a story about human strength, weakness, and survival. Anchor Bay’s release for Season Four featured stellar video and audio quality on every episode and countless hours of commentaries, deleted scenes, and featurettes that will entertain fans of this great show.

The House on Sorority Row (Scorpion Releasing)

The House on Sorority Row (Scorpion Releasing)

  1. The House on Sorority Row (Scorpion Releasing)

*This 1983 slasher about a group of sorority sisters stalked by an unknown killer is an absolute campy hoot, with a great score and creepy atmosphere, not to mention some less-than-stellar performances that add to the fun. Scorpion Releasing treats this minor cult-classic with the utmost respect, delivering a very solid video transfer and bonus features. The two commentaries included are absolutely worth listening to, and the extended interview with Harley Jane Kozak is one of the best of 2014.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: 40th Anniversary Edition (Dark Sky Films)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: 40th Anniversary Edition (MPI/Dark Sky Films)

  1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (MPI/Dark Sky Films)

                *Available in a standard box-style release and the “Black Maria” truck edition, Dark Sky Films’ 40th Anniversary release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre exhibits strong video and audio (especially considering the original elements utilized) and an endless array of bonus material that perfectly pairs with the great packaging job. There are several commentaries, interviews, an alternate ending, storyboard comparisons and much more. The film itself remains horrifying and effective, even after all these years.

Sleepaway Camp: Collector's Edition (Scream Factory)

Sleepaway Camp: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory)

  1. Sleepaway Camp: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory)

                *Scream Factory’s release of Sleepaway Camp on Blu-Ray is the perfect example of why this company is the very best at what they do. Starting with the amazing cover art by regular contributor Nathan Thomas Milliner that perfectly captures the atmosphere of the film, featuring a jaw-dropping brand new 2K-sourced transfer and strong audio, and ending with some of the best bonus content on any release this year, this is the definitive version of the film to own on Home Video. The included documentary titled At the Waterfront After the Social: The Legacy of Sleepaway Camp from Reverend Entertainment’s Justin Beahm offers fans every behind-the-scenes story and anecdote that one could ever wish to discover about this Horror classic.

Prom Night (Synapse Films)

Prom Night (Synapse Films)

  1. Prom Night (Synapse Films)

*With an opening that Horror fans new and old will have a hard time forgetting, the Scream Queen herself Jamie Lee Curtis (fresh off her Halloween success), Leslie Nielsen, and plenty of teenage shenanigans and kill counts to boot, Prom Night is as enjoyable as ever on Synapse’s standout Blu-Ray release of the year. The meticulously mastered 2K scan included herein is one of the best catalog treatments we’ve seen, and for that alone, Synapse deserves kudos for taking their time to get the transfer right (something they have come to be known for). But they didn’t stop there, the packaging features reversible artwork that is gorgeous to behold, a truly outstanding 5.1 audio track, and consistently top-notch bonus material. The Horrors of Hamilton High documentary features the cast and crew discussing the film at length, and we also get never-before-seen outtakes and additional footage featured in the television broadcast. Simply superb!

Halloween: The Complete Collection (Limited Edition) (Anchor Bay & Scream Factory)

Halloween: The Complete Collection (Limited Edition) (Anchor Bay & Scream Factory)

  1. Halloween: The Complete Collection– Limited Edition (Scream Factory & Anchor Bay)

*The #1 release of the year easily belongs to Halloween: The Complete Collection (Limited Edition), the result of an unheard of partnership between two home video giants: Anchor Bay and Scream Factory. Featuring every single film in the franchise and for the first time ever, the Producer’s Cut of Halloween 6 (on a beautiful transfer), as well as a vast array of bonus materials newly produced by Scream Factory, this is the absolute definitive set to own for fans. The artwork from Paul Shipper sets the mood perfectly, and the attention to detail with the individual black cases and original theatrical artwork on each separate film case is perfection. This is dedication folks! The fact that so much time and effort went into ensuring that fans would be happy with the results of this box set (along with the aforementioned content itself) is reason enough to select this fine release as the best of 2014, and one that will be appreciated by Horror fans for years to come.

Runners Up: Frankenstein Created Woman (Millennium Entertainment), The Blob (Twilight Time), Ginger Snaps (Scream Factory), Motel Hell (Scream Factory), The Quatermass Xperiment (Kino Lorber), Scanners (The Criterion Collection), Curtains (Synapse Films), The Final Terror (Scream Factory), and Nightbreed (Scream Factory).

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre


Squirm Blu-Ray Review

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

 

Squirm: Collector's Edition (Scream Factory)

Squirm: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory)

The Film:

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.

Video Quality:

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.

Audio Quality:

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.

Special Features:

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.

The Packaging:

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 (reverse)

Squirm (reverse)

Squirm (interior)

Squirm (interior)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Report:

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!

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre


The Doctor and the Devils Blu-Ray Review

Blu-Ray Review- The Doctor and the Devils

Distributor: Scream Factory

Street Date: November 4th 2014

Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio

Runtime: 93 Minutes

The Doctor and the Devils (Scream Factory)

The Doctor and the Devils (Scream Factory)

The Film:

“A man of medicine. A pair of murderers. An unholy alliance.”

-Theatrical tagline for The Doctor and the Devils

Based upon the factual murders committed by William Burke and William Hare in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1828, The Doctor and the Devils comes from an original screenplay by Dylan Thomas and is Directed by Hammer alum Freddie Francis. The film stars Timothy Dalton as Dr. Thomas Rock, an Anatomy Professor who has been paying local henchman to dig up the graves of the recently deceased for his fascinating lectures at the academy. Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea play Robert Fallon and Timothy Broom, two degenerate crooks who get word of Dr. Rock’s grave-robbing business and are looking to make a profit. When finding the right bodies proves to be more difficult than they imagined, they take to killing unsuspecting young lads in the area (as Dr. Rock pays more for fresh corpses).

Rumors soon begin to spread about Dr. Rock’s supposed late night activities, and his rival, Professor Macklin (Patrick Stewart), sends student “spies” to attend his lectures to gain proof of his access to dead bodies “not from the hangman.” Dr. Rock makes implications to the macabre shenanigans, but lack of clear proof in the matter holds the authorities at bay. As the murders begin to hit too close to home for Dr. Rock and his assistant, and moral tension mounts between Fallon and Broom, these colorful characters’ lives arrive at an inevitable climax that spells certain doom for all.

The Doctor and the Devils has that handsomely produced Gothic feel to it, thanks to Hammer and Amicus alumni Freddie Francis. From the period costume design to the gothic set dressing and talented array of performers giving it their all, the film is exceptionally well executed. Having ignorantly never seen Timothy Dalton outside of the Bond films he made in the late 1980’s, it was a treat to see his genuine commanding presence on display in a period piece. The score by John Morris is worth mentioning as well, with its gothic and mysterious tone that exudes curiosity and stays with you for days. There are also some genuinely disturbing moments in the film, in particular, when Fallon suffocates a young man to death for the first time as he relates how he was asked to put soldiers out of their misery during his time spent as an orderly in the war. Broom pleads with him; “wait Fallon….wait, wait. For God’s sake, wait.” It’s an unnerving scene, expertly acted by both Pryce and Rea. I assure you that you’re in for a fine evening with this one, and this release from Scream Factory makes for a classy addition to their ever-growing line of Horror gems.

Video Quality:

Though I’ll admit I became a little worried during the 20th Century Fox logo and opening shot of Dalton walking against the Edinburgh skyline (which has its share of debris), it soon after becomes immediately clear that The Doctor and the Devils looks incredibly good on this High Definition presentation. For some reason I see a lot of 1980’s films that have some scratches and anomalies in the opening credits that soon clear up incredibly well (not sure why that is). But let’s get right to it: The Doctor and the Devils retains the authentic natural film grain of the source material, has incredibly solid black levels, and even exhibits surprisingly good detail in objects, facial features, and costumes. There are a handful of seemingly soft or unfocused shots, no doubt a result of the original negative, but worth pointing out. This is a fine presentation that really exhibits a solid upgrade to High Definition.

Audio Quality:

The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is solid, regularly balancing dialogue, background effects, and the lovely score from John Morris in fine fashion. There is some power and depth to the audio that is quite surprising at times, and paired with the great video, it makes for a finely presented experience.

Special Features:

Scream Factory has given The Doctor and the Devils some select bonus features for this non-collector’s edition release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:

  • Audio Commentary with Steve Haberman– Author Steve Haberman sits down to discuss The Doctor and the Devils in great detail. The commentary is incredibly informative, but comes off a bit too dry and robotic, sounding as if Haberman is reading directly from a script. It lacks the fun, off-the-cuff style of previous commentaries from the Scream line. This is in no way a knock on Haberman, who is clearly an absolute scholar on the film and its history, but it simply comes off a bit dull at times.
  • Interviews- This phenomenal three-way interview has Mel Brooks, Jonathan Sanger, and Randy Auerbach discussing The Doctor and the Devils for nearly 16 minutes. There isn’t a moderator but the trio discusses the film in depth. From Dylan Thomas’ wonderful screenplay to various pre-production issues, reminiscing about filming and the acting talent, and even having the “Mel Brooks” name on a genre film other than comedy. This is very entertaining stuff, and I love the fact that Shout! Factory just let the trio carry on their discussion in their way. Brooks in particular is just so entertaining to listen to, especially when he reflects on the differences in filmmaking from then to now: “But during my time making movies, there were friendships. You could actually ask people for a favor.” Bittersweet and fascinating, this featurette is wonderful.
  • Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just over 1 ½ minutes and though it’s in pretty rough condition, it offers an accurate glimpse at the type of movie that awaits you.

The Packaging:

This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover, looking like a sepia toned sketch from an old book of medicine. The red title font provides a fine contrast to the drawing design, making for simple but effective cover art. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the disc as well as some nice background art featuring a grave-robbing scene from early in the film.

The Doctor and the Devils (reverse)

The Doctor and the Devils (reverse)

The Doctor and the Devils (interior)

The Doctor and the Devils (interior)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Report:

The Doctor and the Devils may just be Scream Factory’s classiest film released in their ever-growing line of Horror delights. Masterfully directed by Hammer alum Freddie Francis and featuring fine performances from everyone involved, this polished cinematic version of the Burke & Hare murders is both clever and unnerving. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features an incredibly solid High Definition presentation, complete with authentic color grading and solid black levels, and the audio is surprisingly well balanced and dynamic. The special features department offers a wonderful conversation with Producer Mel Brooks, Jonathan Sanger, and Randy Auerbach, as well as an informative audio commentary. Though I felt that the included audio commentary was a bit robotic, it’s a small complaint on an otherwise great disc. The Doctor and the Devils remains an entertaining and gorgeously produced Gothic Horror entry that reminds one of Hammer films’ heyday, and this Blu-Ray edition comes highly recommended.

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre


Leviathan Blu-Ray Review

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

Leviathan (Scream Factory)

Leviathan (Scream Factory)

The Film:

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.

Video Quality:

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.

Audio Quality:

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.

Special Features:

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.

The Packaging:

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.

Leviathan (reverse)

Leviathan (reverse)

Leviathan (interior)

Leviathan (interior)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Report:

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.

Yours Truly,

Doctor Macabre