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.
Blu-Ray Review- The Babadook
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: April 14th 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t rid of the Babadook”
Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook will stay with you long after the final credits roll. It’s not your typical Horror film, and I’m actually finding it difficult to describe it as anything but an incredibly well-executed drama that happens to feature some horror elements. It’s about grief, loss, and the struggles of parenting. There is indeed a Babadook…but exactly what is it and what does it represent? Jennifer Kent has crafted a unique little masterpiece that steps outside the lines of Horror and forces it’s viewers to dig deeper.
In The Babadook, Amelia Vannick (Essie Davis) is a single mother raising her 7-year old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a child with considerable emotional and behavioral needs. Years prior, Samuel’s father was killed in a car accident while driving Amelia to the hospital to give birth to him. The accident has left Amelia with nightmares, and left her son without a father figure in his life to aid in raising him. Samuel’s daily behaviors wreak havoc on Amelia’s sleep, and things grow more desperate when Samuel brings some homemade weapons to school and gets expelled.
One night the pair decides to read a mysterious pop-up book called The Babadook that Samuel finds in his room. The story starts out innocently enough, but grows more disturbing as they read on. The top-hat wearing, clawed menace from the book begins to haunt their dreams, and soon spills into their everyday life. As sleepless nights begin to make it hard to differentiate one day from the next, and fantasy from reality, Amelia and Samuel fight for their lives against the mysterious Babadook.
My plot synopsis is purposely vague, as I would hate to ruin this fantastic tale for the viewer. Jennifer Kent expanded upon some great ideas she displayed in her short film Monster, and crafted a true genre masterpiece with The Babadook. The acting from Essie Davis in particular is stellar, making for a performance that evokes incredible sympathy from the viewer. Young Noah Wiseman is also particularly good here, delivering a believable portrayal of a boy terrorized by not just a “monster”, but in knowing that he’s different from his peers. The Babadook is both scary and dramatically effective, with plenty of style and atmosphere that easily bests most modern day Horror fare, and comes highly recommended.
This brand new HD transfer of the film looks simply splendid. The interiors of the house offer up a nice blue-gray color palette, which look gorgeously drab. Facial features and fine object detail are a standout, with fantastic depth and clarity throughout. Black levels are also as solid as can be, with an inky perfection that works wonderfully for this type of genre (where anything could pop out from behind the shadows). There isn’t even the slightest hint of artifacts or blemishes here. The Babadook looks perfect on this Blu-Ray from Scream Factory.
The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track is a solid one, and pairs well with the fantastic video quality. Dialogue comes through clean and clear, and the brooding music and background effects are perfectly captured here. The sound design of this relatively single-space film really envelops you in your home theater, maximizing the anxiety while watching.
Scream Factory has provided fans of The Babadook with a fantastic selection of bonus features for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Jennifer Kent’s Short Film, Monster: This short film from director Jennifer Kent runs just over ten minutes and shares some thematic qualities with The Babadook. Filmed in Black and White, the story centers on a mother struggling with her son’s insistence that his doll is real. She hides the doll in the downstairs closet, which only unleashes a further disturbance in their home. The “monster” of the film shares more than a few qualities with The Babadook (claws/hands), and the pop-up book that she reads to her son was obviously an early influence on her later film as well. This was rather brilliant, and definitely offers up some scares in a short amount of time.
- Deleted Scenes– Nearly 3 minutes of deleted scenes from the film include: Amelia picking Sam up from school after his suspension, Amelia checking-in on Sam after the birthday party mishap, and Amelia bringing Sam to Gracie’s before her shift. The first two scenes were easily left on the cutting room floor, but I would have welcomed the addition of the final one. Gracie’s line “It’s not a crime to ask for help love” is quite moving, and it further allows the viewer to experience Amelia’s daily struggle.
- Creating the Book with illustrator Alex Juhasz- This nearly 4 minute featurette has designer Alex Juhasz (of The United States of Tara’s opening sequence) discussing and showcasing his handmade pop-up book featured in The Babadook. I loved hearing Alex discuss his designs and the process that he used to create something unique in a territory he was fairly unfamiliar with. Great stuff!
- A Tour of the House Set- This featurette runs nearly 7 minutes and has the crew showing the process that went into creating the interior sets of the house featured in the film. It’s interesting to hear from the crew regarding their color and design choices for the set, which feature a very storybook-like quality to them.
- The Stunts: Jumping the Stairs– This short featurette runs almost 2 minutes and offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Essie Davis, Jennifer Kent, and the stunt coordinator trying to make a flying-wire sequence work as Essie’s character is moving quickly up the stairs.
- Special Effects: The Stabbing Scene– This one runs 1 ½ minutes and has the crew showcasing the effects work that goes into a “stabbing” sequence in a Horror film, which pretty much just includes clothing and a leg of lamb. What a fun job these folks have!
- Behind the Scenes- Yet another behind-the-scenes featurette that runs nearly 3 minutes and features Jennifer Kent directing the birthday party sequence from the film and one of Amelia’s long nights “zoned out” in front of the television.
- Cast and Crew Interviews- This is the most extensive portion of the bonus features, with individual interviews with many members of the cast and crew. The entire feature runs over an hour in length, but for those of you wanting to dig more in-depth on the film’s deeper meanings, it’s all rather insightful.
- Theatrical Trailer- This is actually several theatrical trailers for the film that last nearly 5 minutes altogether.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features some of the most brilliant artwork and overall design of the year thus far. The red matte finish slipcover opens up to reveal a 3D pop-up book effect of the Babadook himself, along with the now-famous tagline from the movie. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, a list of special features and technical specifications, and a continuation of the artwork. On the interior of the slipcover is the standard Blu-Ray case, which has reversible artwork for fans to choose from. The interior of the case features the Blu-Ray disc which also has some standout artwork. Hats off to Shout! Factory’s Mindy Kang for the packaging design!
The Babadook will stay with you long after the final credits roll. It’s not your typical Horror film, being both scary and dramatically effective, with plenty of style and atmosphere that easily bests most modern day genre fare. Jennifer Kent has crafted a unique little masterpiece that steps outside the genre lines and forces it’s viewers to dig deeper. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features truly outstanding video and audio quality, a wealth of fun bonus material, and the best packaging job of 2015 thus far. The “pop-up” book slipcover is a genius design, and is especially welcome for admirers of unique home video packaging. The Babadook comes highly recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- Love at First Bite/Once Bitten
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: February 10th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 96 Minutes/94 Minutes
Before I even discuss the movies themselves, can we take a moment to applaud Scream Factory’s efforts to mix things up a bit when it comes to catalog releases? Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Horror distributor is releasing this double feature for 1979’s Love at First Bite and 1985’s Once Bitten (not to mention Vampire’s Kiss/High Spirits as well). Their willingness to cater slightly outside the genre circle with these Horror comedy-romances speaks highly to both their business savvy and knowledge of their fan base.
Love at First Bite– In this 1979 comedy, bronze statue George Hamilton portrays Count Dracula, who along with his trusted Renfield, is forced to vacate his castle to make room an Olympic Training facility. Believing that New York model Cindy Sondheim (Susan Saint James) is the reincarnation of his one true love, he soon arrives in the Big Apple searching for her. Subsequently, her Psychiatrist Jeffrey Rosenberg (Richard Benjamin) happens to be the grandson of Dracula’s nemesis: Van Helsing. Though it’s certainly not a laugh-a-minute affair, as a Horror fan, it’s the type of comedy that brings the perma-smiles throughout. It’s corny, cute, harmless, and unequivocally stuck in its place and time.
Once Bitten– This 1985 comedy stars a young Jim Carrey as Mark Kendall; a desperate High School kid in L.A. who just wants to get laid. With his girlfriend’s rejections and ongoing desire to wait until she’s ready, a fed-up Mark and his friends decide to hit up the local club scene in search of easy sex. There, Mark meets The Countess (Lauren Hutton), who whisks him away to her mansion for a seemingly good time. Mark is bitten (and fooled into thinking he finally had sex), but has not been completely “turned” into a Vampire yet. His increasingly odd behavior begins to worry his friends and girlfriend, and the Countess pursues desperate measures to finish what she started. Once Bitten, sadly, hasn’t held up too well over the past 30 years. It’s a somewhat fascinating film for Jim Carrey fans to see the young actor hamming it up, but that’s likely the only reason you’ll keep watching. There is some fun chemistry between Lauren Hutton and Cleavon Little (as The Countess’ assistant), but other than that, this is a mostly yawn-inducing 80’s effort.
Let’s begin with Love at First Bite. The print utilized here is a clean one (given the period stock), sporting natural film grain and an authentic color palette. The black levels are surprisingly inky and solid, with only the occasional white speckling or debris visible periodically throughout the film. Once Bitten looks even better, with fantastic grain structure and color reproduction on display. Both films look surprisingly good in High Definition.
The 2.0 HD mono tracks works well for both movies; supporting dialogue and intermittent music and background sound design appropriately. Neither audio track is going to “wow” you with sheer power necessarily, but they get the job done for the respective films they accompany.
Scream Factory has given this blood-sucking double feature select bonus features for fans to peruse, and only for Love at First Bite. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for Love at First Bite.
- Radio Spots- Select radio spots that played throughout the theatrical campaign for Love at First Bite. I love when Scream Factory includes these gems on their releases, as they truly serve as a nostalgic time machine of sorts for genre lovers and Horror fans.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory mimics their past double feature releases with the original theatrical poster design for each film along with the double feature logo centered at the bottom. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis for each film, a short list of special features for each, technical specifications, and select production stills from the films. Inside the case are two Blu-Ray discs as well as more production stills on the reverse wrap.
I have to applaud Scream Factory for mixing things up with this Comedy-Horror double feature for Love at First Bite and Once Bitten. Their willingness to cater outside the genre circle speaks to both their business savvy and knowledge of their cult-classic loving fan-base. Love at First Bite is a cheesy delight that offers up some light laughs and a perma-smile that’s hard to shake, while Once Bitten is pure 80’s mediocrity that serves as a “curiosity” for those that want to see a young Jim Carrey shine, but offers little beyond. Nevertheless, this is a fun double feature release with great video and decent audio, but one that does admittedly run a little light on the special features. This release still easily gets my recommendation as a fun horror-comedy marathon for a rainy evening.
Blu-Ray Review- ABC’s of Death 2
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Street Date: February 3rd 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 122 Minutes
Anthologies may just be my very favorite type of cinema when it comes to the horror genre. From 1972’s Tales from the Crypt to 1982’s Creepshow and even 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat, they have the ability to absorb us as viewers with short, masterfully told tales of terror. In 2012 Magnet Releasing and Drafthouse Films teamed up to give us The ABC’s of Death; twenty-six Horror shorts directed by 26 different filmmakers who were each assigned a letter of the alphabet in which to weave their madness around. The concept was rather brilliant, but the execution left me wanting more. Those shorts ranged from masterfully well done to utterly pointless and the just plain bizarre. That films sequel, ABC’s of Death 2, offers up more of the same, but luckily for us, this time around the good outweighs the bad.
Rather than executing your typical review where I break down each segment, I thought I would explore the best and the worst of ABC’s of Death 2:
- A is for Amateur from E.L. Katz is a stylish and wickedly hilarious segment that follows a hit-man’s latest assassination, first from the perspective of how he imagines it happening, and then, how it actually occurs (which is, to say the least, much less smooth than he had imagined).
- B is for Badger from Julian Barratt is also ridiculously funny and involves a wildlife camera crew encountering a “larger than average” badger that lives in an ominous hole in the ground. The situation is drawn out for maximum effect and when “it” finally happens it’s unexpected and darkly comical.
- D is for Deloused from Robert Morgan is an awfully disgusting stop-motion segment that has a giant bug aiding an executed man with revenge on those that wronged him. It’s utterly ridiculous and the animation is disturbing, but it’s creative and well made.
- M is for Masticate from Robert Boocheck is perhaps the greatest segment of them all (and one you’ve likely seen replayed in the trailers). It’s all rather simple, a large hairy man in his underoos runs screaming down the street in slow motion, searching for someone to eat. The ridiculousness of it all and the reveal of “why” he is doing this at the end is timely and gut-busting funny (in a “so wrong I’m laughing” sort of way).
- R is for Roulette from Marvin Kren is filmed in black and white, artfully crafted, and definitely disturbing. Three people play Russian roulette in a basement while something sinister awaits them upstairs.
- U is for Utopia from Vincenzo Natali centers on your “average guy” in a shopping center full of very attractive people who is singled out in this “perfect” society in the worst way imaginable. It’s short, bizarre, and has some nice effects.
- W is for Wish from Steven Kostanski is likely my 2nd favorite segment, as it perfectly captures every 80’s kids’ favorite toy and game TV commercial memories into one sadistic little short film. The child actors are spot-on, the visual “look” of the piece really echoes the time period, and the resulting Horror twist is very clever.
- Z is for Zygote from Chris Nash is another rather brilliant segment involving a rural pregnant woman who manages to keep her baby gestating and growing inside her for 13 years. It’s extremely well made, utterly disgusting in every respect, and features an ending that sticks with you. Great stuff!
- C is for Capital Punishment from Julian Gilbey leaves a bad taste in your mouth, especially given recent events in the real-world. A man is amateurishly beheaded in the woods after he has been found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit. I’m sure the filmmakers’ didn’t intend to echo actual events, but it comes off as being in bad taste. I’m also not sure what the point was plot-wise with this one.
- F is for Falling from Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado about an Israeli woman’s parachute becoming stuck in a tree in Palestinian territory is also offensive and in poor taste (in my opinion at least). Maybe some find the cleverness in these more politically themed segments, but I personally enjoy my Horror best when it’s not connected to real-life pain and suffering.
- S is for Split from Juan Martinez Moreno is admittedly well-filmed in several split-screen moments as a horrified husband has to stay on the phone with his wife as an intruder breaks into their home. Unfortunately, the death of an infant in brutal fashion is an automatic deal breaker for me. It’s the Father in me speaking and yes, I realize this is fiction, but it’s completely unnecessary and sadistic. The subsequent “reveal” at the end of this segment didn’t offend me as it did others, but I think it’s safe to say that these filmmakers were going for the “how many people can we offend” goal, which frankly isn’t Horror and strikes too close to home for some.
- X is for Xylophone from Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo is again, from a parent’s perspective, not funny and downright cruel. I understand the tone these filmmakers were going for but it honestly made me queasy. Maybe they would say that they did their job. Personally, my taste for Horror sits much better with the stylish and suspenseful spectrum than the gory and plotless.
- Segments that weren’t mentioned above were likely just middle-of-the-road and didn’t impress or offend me enough to write about. Though I obviously had a bone to pick with a handful of segments, I would say that ABC’s of Death 2 far outshines its predecessor in nearly every way. The majority of segments are clever and some even brilliant, making for some great Anthology-Horror fun.
Each segment was filmed and transferred via High Definition, and generally, they all look great on Blu-Ray. Each Director’s style and choice of filters and enhancements effects the segments accordingly, such as the stop-motion grittiness and imperfect look of D is for Deloused or the aforementioned nostalgic 80’s commercial vibe that W is for Wish has going for it. No complaints here folks, the video looks great with plenty of clarity and definition across the board.
The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track works well, and differs accordingly in power/nuances for each segment. While I wouldn’t say that this particular track as a whole is demo-worthy, dialogue and sound effects always come through clean and clear.
Magnet Releasing has provided fans of ABC’s of Death 2 with a vast array of bonus features to accompany this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Filmmaker’s Commentary- Several of the filmmakers involved in each segment, along with Ant Timson and Tim League, give their individual takes and unique commentary for their respective pieces. Worth listening to especially for the K is for Knell segment where the filmmakers offer up a unique retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Bells.
- Individual Segment Bonus Content- Listing out each individual bonus feature for the segments would take ages, so just know that there are is endless array of bonus featurettes, making-of’s, special effects segments, and production stills and galleries to accompany select Alphabet shorts.
- AXS TV: A Look at The ABC’s of Death 2– The Directors of A, E, & M (not in that specific order) discuss their respective segments in this featurette which lasts just over 2 minutes.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Magnet Releasing features some stylish cover art focusing on the grim reaper angel figure who has become the mascot of sorts for the series. I appreciate the font and style utilized in the film’s title as well. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a brief plot synopsis, a list of bonus features, and technical specifications. On the interior of the packaging you’ll find the Blu-Ray disc, which mimics the cover art for the case, packaged in an eco-friendly design. I do need to mention that I personally adored the book-version of the first film’s release that Drafthouse had available exclusively on their site, and would have loved to see a follow-up book/Blu-Ray release for this one.
Anthology Horror films have long been a favorite staple of the genre for me, and though the first installment left me wanting more, ABC’s of Death 2 more than makes up for its predecessor with the majority of its 26 shorts ranging from brilliantly clever to memorable. There are a handful of segments that offended me, but I suppose that was the point. This Blu-Ray edition from Magnet Releasing features outstanding video and decent audio, not to mention an endless array of bonus features catered to individual segments. While it does have its share of duds, The ABC’s of Death 2 is an anthology piece that I will revisit again. Recommended.