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- Madhouse
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Street Date: July 21st 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 89 Minutes
Back in 1974, American International Pictures and Amicus Productions put in one last ditch effort to capitalize on the Gothic Horror genre they had so admirably brought to life on the silver screen with Madhouse starring Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. Though I personally adore the film (as many other Price fans do), Madhouse failed to impress at the box office, and AIP subsequently buried the genre. It’s a shame, because the film itself is utterly delightful for Horror fans. Not only because of the powerful onscreen presence of Lee and Cushing, but with standout sets, makeup, and costume design partnered with a unique macabre story that isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at the horror genre and legendary careers of its stars.
In Madhouse, Vincent Price portrays Horror star Paul Toombes, an actor who is celebrating the release of his fifth film in the “Dr. Death” series at his private mansion. Donning a black cape, black fedora, and skeleton-like makeup, his character has terrified audiences on screen for decades. The release party also serves as an engagement announcement for Toombes, who is happy as can be with his beautiful fiancée Ellen at his side. Soon after the couple’s happy news is announced, a sleazy adult film producer informs Paul that Allen used to be in his films. A distraught and angry Paul disappears at the party, while Ellen is murdered by a shadowy figure that looks very similar to “Dr. Death.” The murder goes unsolved, and a heartbroken Paul’s life and career begin to fall apart.
Fast forward to several years later, and Paul is called to London by his best friend Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing) to star in a brand new television series that will bring his character Dr. Death back to life for Horror fans. Production on the show begins, but the shadowy figure that murdered Ellen years prior is back with a vengeance! One by one, those around Paul soon begin to fall victim to a real-life “Dr. Death.”
Regular readers of the site know of my affection for Mr. Vincent Price, and Madhouse happens to be one of my personal favorites of his. The visual look of Dr. Death himself remains very sinister, and famously made for a legendary cover page for Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. The movie itself is very suspenseful, with fantastic performances from everyone involved, but especially memorable is the chemistry between Price and Cushing. The story keeps the viewer guessing throughout, with a myriad of possibilities regarding the killer’s identity. Madhouse is a delightful little Horror treat; a self-aware gothic production that continues to entertain over forty years later. I’m not sure why audiences didn’t flock to see the film back then, but luckily, Madhouse is still fondly remembered enough to garner a solid Blu-Ray release from Kino Lorber.
Kino Lorber delivers Madhouse onto Blu-Ray with a fine high definition transfer that sports a period authentic color palette, plenty of crisp detail in facial features and clothing, and a generally clean print. There are occasional speckles, light damage, and noise, but those moments are few and far between. Madhouse looks better than it ever has on home video, and I’m very pleased with the results of Kino’s efforts here.
Unfortunately this is the one area of Kino’s Blu-Ray release where fans may be disappointed. There is an audio-sync issue that persists throughout the entirety of the film. Lips move before the dialogue audio kicks in, sometimes after, with only a few select scenes that seem to be correctly synced. Video issues can sometimes be easy to overlook, but unfortunately audio sync problems are so noticeable and distracting that fans may feel a little let down. Kino Lorber is aware of the issue and is currently investigating the error. At the time this review is being written, we’re waiting to hear back regarding the results of their investigation (i.e. possible replacement discs). Besides this issue, the audio itself sounds great, with dialogue front and center and plenty of spooky sound effects and score components sounding pristine in HD.
Kino Lorber has given Madhouse a solid selection of bonus features to accompany this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary – Film Historian David Del Valle discusses the troubled production of the film, Vincent Price’s performance, and some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits that viewers will surely enjoy.
- The Revenge of Dr. Death: Making Madhouse– This nearly 11 minute featurette on the making of the film is short but exceptionally entertaining for fans of the film (and genre)! Beginning with American International Pictures and Amicus’ troubled pre-production process (where the initial adapted screenplay was flat-out refused by Vincent Price) to various participants’ thoughts on the last “hurrah” of the Gothic genre that Hammer Films and AIP helped to create, there is plenty for aficionados to enjoy here.
- Madhouse Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just under two minutes and is utterly delightful for fans of the film. From the scrolling warning that opens the trailer to the cheesy voice-over, this is fantastic stuff!
- Tales of Terror Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for another recent Kino Lorber release, Tales of Terror, is also quite a bit of fun. The trailer unfolds in typical AIP fashion with some of the standout scenes from the film complete with voiceover narration and exaggerated graphics work.
This Blu-Ray edition from Kino Lorber (Studio Classics line) features the utterly amazing original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover. From Dr. Death’s face paint to the bloody font design and gothic atmosphere, it’s everything a classic Horror fan could ask for. 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 which also features the stylish cover design.
Madhouse remains one of my personal favorite Vincent Price films. The chemistry between Price and Cushing is fantastic and the story keeps the viewer guessing throughout; with a myriad of possibilities regarding the killer’s identity. Madhouse is a delightful little Horror treat; a self-aware gothic production that continues to entertain over forty years later. The Blu-Ray edition from Kino Lorber features a fine transfer that remains true to the film source and a nice selection of bonus material. The Revenge of Dr. Death featurette, though short, is fascinating for fans of the film and genre. The one disappointing factor on this edition is the audio sync issue that unfortunately affects most of the film. Kino has promised fans that it’s looking into the issue, so hopefully a replacement program will be made available shortly. I’m not sure why audiences didn’t flock to see the film back in 1974, but luckily, Madhouse is still fondly remembered enough to garner a solid Blu-Ray release and comes highly recommended.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Blu-Ray Review- It Follows
Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Street Date: July 14th 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 100 Minutes
If you’re a regular reader of my site, you’ll know that I haven’t been too kind to modern Horror releases over the past decade. My upbringing in classic Horror, stylish slashers, and the likes of Craven and Carpenter set a precedent for the genre that most modern features just can’t come close to as far as originality or suspense. It Follows is the unique exception. David Robert Mitchell’s film evokes Carpenter’s Halloween in its simplicity and production design, but stands on its own as a unique entry for the genre. The dialogue and character dynamics between the teenagers is very natural, the plot is simplistic yet consistently engaging, and the cinematography is absolutely stunning. Did I mention the score from Disasterpeace? It’s simply one of the most memorable Horror scores in recent memory.
It Follows stars the lovely Maika Monroe (The Guest) as Jay; your typical girl-next-door in suburban Detroit. She’s an avid swimmer, loves spending time with her sister and friends, and has recently begun dating the charming Hugh. When the couple go on a date at the local movie theater, an innocent game between the two becomes awkward when Hugh begins to have visions of a woman whom no one else can see. Their next date gets off to a better start, with Jay and Hugh making love in the backseat of his car. Once again, things become awkward when Hugh incapacitates Jay with chloroform immediately after sex. Jay soon wakes up in an abandoned parking garage as Hugh terrifyingly explains that a supernatural entity has been following him. It can take form in the shape of a stranger in a crowd or someone you know. This unfortunate curse moves slowly, but will always catch up to you sooner or later, and the only way to get rid of the curse is to have sex with someone, thereby passing it on to them (as Hugh as just done to Jay).
I won’t spoil the rest of the film as I’m hoping the above outline is enough to entice you. It Follows features fine performances from a talented cast that make their characters relatable and the ensuing chaos that much more terrifying. That’s not to say the film is without flaws. The “creepy” factor is high here, but genuine scares are somewhat light. The filmmaker’s decision to allow the entity to embody anybody certainly looks good on paper, but it also allows the fear factor to fluctuate accordingly depending on the resulting form (i.e. the tall man contrasted with an elderly woman). Nevertheless, It Follows is full of style and suspense from beginning to end, resulting in a modern day Horror entry that stands out among the rest.
The beautiful high definition image on display truly captures the gorgeous cinematography at work! Black levels are inky and deep, colors pop, and clarity is crystal clear. Everything from the suburban Detroit neighborhood’s green grasses and brick-lined houses to the film’s more gory deep red blood splatter moments offer up pristine video quality on Blu-Ray. Outstanding!
This 5.1 DTS-HD track is equally as impressive, bringing the movie to full life throughout your home theater system. The brooding and suspenseful tone works incredibly well across all channels, making for the perfect home viewing experience. Dialogue always comes through crisp and clean, and the phenomenal score from Disasterpeace envelops the viewer completely.
Anchor Bay Entertainment has provided fans of It Follows with some light but overall solid special features for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Critics Commentary– Hosted by Scott Weinberg (Nerdist) and featuring call-in guests like Samuel D. Zimmerman of Shock Till You Drop and Eric Vespe of Aint It Cool News (among many others), this unique commentary acts gives viewers some nice background information on the film itself as well as some interesting impressions that the film left with these critics. It’s a bit unconventional, but engaging, nonetheless.
- A Conversation with Film Composer Disasterpeace- This one runs nearly 5 minutes and features the composer discussing his work on It Follows, how he became involved in the production, and his intention of bringing the right eerie elements together to strike the appropriate tone.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just over 2 minutes and gives viewers a brief glimpse into the subtle genius of the film.
- Poster Art Gallery- Various artists from around the world provide their artwork from the film’s theatrical release campaign. There are some fun and interesting artistic impressions at work here.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Anchor Bay Entertainment features the original theatrical poster design for It Follows. I personally love the non-traditional design with Jay making out with Hugh in the backseat of the car. The foggy background surrounding the pair along with the woodland setting is subtle and really evokes a creepy atmosphere. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis for the film, a short list of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills. On the interior of the case are the Blu-Ray disc and the Ultraviolet Digital copy code.
David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows evokes John Carpenter’s Halloween in its genius simplicity and outstanding production design, but stands on its own as a truly unique entry in the Horror genre. The film features fine performances from a talented cast that make their characters relatable and the ensuing chaos that much more terrifying. The Blu-Ray edition from Anchor Bay Entertainment exhibits outstanding video and audio quality, and though the special features are somewhat light, they’re informative for fans nonetheless. It Follows is full of style and suspense from beginning to end, resulting in a modern day Horror entry that stands out among the rest, and comes highly recommended.
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)
*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)
*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)
*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)
*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)
*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)
*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 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)
*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)
*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 (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).
Blu-Ray Review- Scanners
Distributor: The Criterion Collection
Street Date: July 15th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 103 Minutes
As a life-long Horror and Science Fiction aficionado, I felt like I hit the gold mine when I came across David Cronenberg’s work for the first time when I saw The Fly (1986) as a pre-teen. The Director’s insanely gory vision of the dark side of technology, as well as his reliance on a solid story and realistic characters, made me seek out his work in a frenzied pre-pubescent panic. Soon I would watch Videodrome (1983), which would become one of my all-time Top 10 films. But it was Scanners, a film that as far as I knew was about exploding heads, which really captured my interest at the time. What a concept! We’ve all had a bully or tormentor of some kind that we only wished we could unleash the same sort of telepathic revenge on. The concept had been done before in films like Carrie (1976) and The Fury (1978), but Cronenberg brought a polished level of sadism to his take, and a cinematic Horror classic was born.
In Scanners, Stephen Lack stars as Cameron Vale, a telepathic vagrant known as a “Scanner”, who is completely unaware of the full extent of his powers. “Scanners” can telepathically link themselves to others’ nervous systems, allowing them access to their thoughts, heart rate, brain waves, you name it. Following a disturbance in a mall food court, Cameron is captured by government agents and placed into the care of Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), a research specialist with ConSec. When one of ConSec’s scanners is attacked by the dangerous rogue scanner Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), the company turns to Dr. Ruth for a solution. Dr. Ruth begins to train Cameron to not only control his “scanning” capabilities with an experimental drug called Ephemerol, but also to hone his dangerous skills in order to defeat Revok once and for all. Scanners is one of those films that I would hate to spoil for those who haven’t seen it, so I’ll leave my plot synopsis at that.
Revisiting Scanners on this brand new Blu-Ray edition from The Criterion Collection was both delightful and eye-opening in that I continue to appreciate the film as a unique and strong effort from Cronenberg, but I’m also willing to admit that the film is quite dated in 2014. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve seen so many various telepathic movies since I first viewed Scanners as a pre-teen, and I’m able to recognize its strengths and shortcomings by comparison. Scanners still benefits from fine execution on behalf of the filmmakers, with brilliant special effects that are still very effective and engaging performances from a talented cast. What does it lack? Well the ending for one, though the effects are impressive, is a bit anti-climactic and “small scale” for a film that promises it’s viewers an all-out telepathic battle of epic proportions. It’s rather short and confined to one space.
Though it may sound like I’m being too hard on a legitimate cult classic, there were just a few things I noticed this time around that somehow evaded me over the years. Believe me when I say that I wouldn’t own four separate versions of the film on home video if I didn’t adore it, even with a few shortcomings. Scanners remains an exciting cinematic tale of social paranoia and telepathic chaos that will delight fans of the genre.
Mind=blown. I’ve owned many different versions of Scanners on home video throughout the years, from Laserdisc to VHS and DVD, and this latest Blu-Ray edition features a transfer that blows them all away. Restored digitally from a 2K scan, the fine object detail is outstanding, revealing facial features and small clothing textures that one would have never noticed on previous formats. The colors look superb and accurate to the time period in which it was filmed, retaining the somewhat washed-out look of the theatrical print. This is a very clean print to boot, with very minimal (if any) anomalies or artifacts to report. Beautiful doesn’t quite capture it; this is one of the better restorations I’ve seen in 2014.
The HD Mono track presented here may lack the power of a multi-channel effort, never quite enveloping you in the cinematic realm, but dialogue always comes through clean and clear and background sound design is captured with somewhat dynamic results (given the limitations). It’s a little front heavy and obviously lacks range, but it gets the job done.
The Criterion Collection has provided fans of Scanners with their usual Collector’s Edition treatment, loading this Blu-Ray release with tons of great features. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- The Scanners Way: Creating the Special Effects in Scanners– This great featurette lasts over 20 minutes and delves into the creative process involved in the special effects wizardry behind the film. Featuring several of the crew that worked on the makeup and practical effects, these extended interviews offer some fascinating insight the work that these magical people do on a daily basis.
- Mental Saboteur- How can one not love Michael Ironside? He’s one of my personal favorite villains and character actors of the 80’s and 90’s, and this nearly 20 minute interview is fascinating. Michael delves into all things Scanners including his respect for David Cronenberg, comparing paychecks with his fellow cast mates, the special effects wizardry behind the exploding head sequence, his other work following his move to America from Canada, and much more. I absolutely loved hearing from the man himself about his career. He’s very down-to-earth and honest about life and the living he chose to pursue.
- The Ephemerol Diaries– This featurette was produced in 2012 and features a roughly 14 minute extended interview with actor Stephen Lack discussing his work on Scanners and other films as well as his contribution to the visual arts. I especially enjoyed hearing him discuss Patrick McGoohan’s daily frustrations on the set relating to the screenplay and focus of the film.
- The Bob McLean Show- Taken from a March 1981 episode of the show and running about 11 minutes, Bob McLean sits down with Director David Cronenberg to discuss Scanners and his seven previous films at the time including: Stereo, Rabid, The Brood, and other cult gems.
- Stereo- On a disc packed with great special features, this is the standout gem of the set! Stereo is David Cronenberg’s first feature film from 1969 and truly acts as a prequel to Scanners in some ways, as it involves telepathy and medical experimentation. Presented in High Definition black and white, the film looks splendid on the format. The feature running time is 65 minutes.
- Radio Spots- Roughly 1 ½ minutes of radio spots that aired during the theatrical campaign for Scanners.
- Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs over 2 minutes and gives viewers a fairly good idea of what they’re in for by presenting an edited version of the exploding head scene. The video quality is understandably not up to par, but it adds to the nostalgic atmosphere.
This Blu-Ray edition from The Criterion Collection features some brilliant new artwork on the cover, with Michael Ironside in the midst of combustion. Hardcore fans of the film have been a little mixed on this artwork, but I personally dig it. On the reverse of the slip-box you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, and technical specifications. Inside the case is a digi-pack with more beautiful art which contains the Blu-Ray disc, and two separate DVD discs for the film and special features. There is a booklet with an essay by Kim Newman entitled Mind Over Matter, as well as some more in-depth technical information on the video transfer and production notes. This is a slick and modern looking set with a design that Cronenberg fans will adore.
While Scanners hasn’t necessarily aged as well as other films from the Cronenberg catalog, it remains a well-executed science fiction horror hybrid that balances terror and high-drama in equal measure. The director’s later films would delve more deeply into the bizarre extremities of humanity, but Scanners is a solid and exciting effort with fine performances from the cast and incredibly fun special effects that solidifies its well-deserved rank among the genre films of the 1980’s. This long awaited Blu-Ray edition from The Criterion Collection delivers the goods on picture and audio quality, and provides a fascinating array of special features (including Cronenberg’s first film Stereo) that will delight fans of the film. This Criterion Collection edition comes recommended, especially with the top-notch video/audio and fully-loaded bonus features.
Blu-Ray Review- 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.