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- Ghost Town
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: July 28th 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Runtime: 85 Minutes
Empire Pictures and Charles Band’s 1988 production of Ghost Town contains too many laugh-out-loud “what the fuck am I watching?” moments to count. When bride-to-be Kate Barrett goes missing in a desert town (honestly…who keeps their wedding dress in the backseat of a top-down convertible in the desert?), the local Sheriff’s Deputy (Franc Luz) Langley is assigned to track her down. A rough sandstorm is the apparent cause, but we (the viewers) know that a ghastly western outlaw apparition on horseback has carried her off.
As Langley begins his search, the same outlaw apparition quickly decimates his vehicle, leaving him stranded and desperate in the scorching desert heat. Our hero stumbles across the barren landscape into an abandoned Old West town in his search to solve the mystery of Kate’s disappearance, but soon finds out, nothing is what it seems. The entire town’s inhabitants are dead, stuck in a limbo of sorts, waiting for the day when a legendary lawman will come to town and rid them of the ghostly outlaw that is keeping their souls hostage. Langley, by chance, just might be the lawman they’re looking for.
Ghost Town is a fairly enjoyable B-movie cheese-fest! The story is unintentionally silly, with less-than-stellar acting ability all around, exaggerated line delivery, and questionable editing choices. If it wasn’t for its lack of repeat-watch value, Ghost Town would almost qualify for the “so bad it’s good” stamp of approval. For those that enjoy bad movies, there is no denying that the film delivers the goods. I will say that the special effects aren’t half bad, with a few select gore shots and makeup details that are impressive given the obvious budget restraints. Do I recommend it? Sure. Ghost Town isn’t a terrible way to waste away a rainy afternoon, and cheesy movie fans will delight in the film’s unintentional comedy.
Scream Factory has given Ghost Town an incredibly solid transfer onto the Blu-Ray format! It’s almost too good given the film’s B-movie laugh-fest quality (joking of course). The print is very clean, free from defects, and offers up some beautiful natural film grain without any evidence of manipulation. The dusty ghost town exhibits a depth and lifelike quality in High Definition, and facial features and clothing material are captured in stunning clarity. There are a few scattered shots with artifacts, and a handful of scenes that exhibit a “jumpy” quality (likely a stabilization issue from the source), but Ghost Town overall looks fantastic on the format!
The 2.0 DTS-HD audio track is another fine aspect to this Blu-Ray release. Dialogue always comes through clean and clear, music and sound effects are rather dynamic for a mono track, and there are no hiccups or other distortions in sound throughout the experience. The cheesy score sounds especially great here!
There are no special features included on this Blu-Ray release for Ghost Town. For many of us, having the film on the High Definition format is a special treat in and of itself. Others may be disappointed with the lack of extras.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover. I love the classic Western “pistols at dawn” pose paired with the menace of the skeleton cowboy. The artistic touches of the town’s buildings fading away and the skeleton’s shadow in the foreground are appreciated. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside of the case is the Blu-Ray disc as well as some nice reversible artwork that fans can choose to display instead of the theatrical poster art.
Ghost Town is a fairly enjoyable B-movie cheese-fest! The story is unintentionally silly, with less-than-stellar acting ability all around, exaggerated line delivery, and questionable editing choices. If it wasn’t for its lack of repeat-watch value, Ghost Town would almost qualify for the “so bad it’s good” stamp of approval. For those that enjoy bad movies, there is no denying that the film delivers the goods. The Blu-Ray from Scream Factory boasts very impressive video and audio quality, making for an enjoyable home theater experience for Horror fans. The lack of special features may be disappointing for some, but most of us are satisfied enough to finally own a rare treat like this one on the High Definition format. Western Horror films are hard to come by, and though you have to be in the right mood to appreciate its B-movie charms, Ghost Town on Blu-Ray comes recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- 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.
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- Dolls
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: November 11th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 77 Minutes
From the Child’s Play series to newer offerings such as The Conjuring and its recent spin-off Annabelle, Dolls have seemingly always been a staple of the Horror genre. It’s rather curious as to why, frankly, these children’s play-things have terrified the masses for so many years. They’re meant to be so cute, cuddly, and trust-worthy…but perhaps that’s ultimately where the fear lies. How could these harmless inanimate gifts of porcelain and rubber harm the little people most near and dear to us? Or terrorize their superstitious parents? It’s a genre plot device that seems so silly, but has proved incredibly successful over the years. Much like clowns, who were meant to be so innocent and harmless, dolls in general have a tainted, horrifying aura surrounding them because of their cinematic counterparts. In 1987 Director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) released Dolls, a polished and entertaining entry in the subgenre that never takes itself too seriously.
In the film, 7-year old Judy Bower (Carrie Lorraine), her father David (Ian Patrick Williams), and her nasty step-mother Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy Gordon) arrive at a seemingly deserted mansion in the English countryside after their car becomes stuck in the mud during a thunderstorm. Upon arrival, they soon learn that the mansion is owned by the elderly Gabriel and Hilary Hartwicke (Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason). Gabriel and Hilary are welcoming to their guests, and are soon joined by three more stranded strangers; the punk-rock thieves Isabel and Enid, and the likeable sad sack Ralph (Stephen Lee). Guy explains to his stranded visitors that he used to be a toymaker before he retired, but he still lovingly crafts the children’s toys when he’s able. The mansion is littered with them, lined neatly on the shelves of nearly every room, much to the delight of little Judy. But things soon take a turn for the worse, as the Hartwicke dolls come to life throughout the stormy night, and slowly begin hacking and slashing the weary travelers to death.
Stuart Gordon’s Dolls is injected with brilliant dark humor, some insanely cool special effects, and a cast that clearly understands the genre and gives it their all, making for an enjoyable horror film that is scary, silly, and cleverly self-aware. The film’s technical merits are worth nothing as well, with some impressive lighting techniques, art direction, and set design. It may take a certain brand of Horror fan to appreciate Dolls, with its over-the-top humor and corny nature, but I found it to be a heck of a lot of fun.
Simply put, Dolls looks great on Blu-Ray. The print is in terrific condition, with plenty of detail and authentic color reproduction. The natural film grain on display looks beautiful, and textures on skin and clothing are nearly tangible at times. There are no signs of DNR or other intrusive practices to speak of, which is always a bonus on catalog releases. The only seemingly out-of-place distraction is the appearance of what looks like tiny glitter flakes that fall vertically in some select scenes (most notably in the Bower’s mansion bedroom). It’s a rather small imperfection, but worth nothing as I can’t be certain that it was intentional. Otherwise, this is a wonderful transfer!
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is very effective and suits the eerie atmosphere of the film well. The dialogue always comes through crisp and clear, and the wonderful score envelops and surrounds you throughout. The dramatic high points, especially profound during the dolls’ mayhem, is perfectly captured on this dynamic track. Well done!
Scream Factory has given Dolls their Collector’s Edition treatment by including some extra fun features for fans of this little Horror gem. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentaries (2)– There are two commentaries on this Collector’s Edition, the first with Director Stuart Gordon and Writer Ed Naha, and the second with cast members Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine, and Ian Patrick Williams. Both tracks are insanely entertaining, but I especially loved hearing Mr. Gordon discuss his film along with his screenwriter. We get to hear some detail on the production, effects, and cast throughout both, with a slightly different flavor and atmosphere depending on which you’re listening to.
- Toys of Terror: The Making of Dolls– Running over 38 minutes, this brand new documentary from Scream Factory and Red Shirt Pictures features select cast and crew members discussing the film’s legacy, production, cast, and much more. Much like the documentaries on past Scream Factory releases, this is wonderfully entertaining, with plenty of fun stories for fans of the film to enjoy. I especially enjoyed hearing from the crew about filming on location in England and on the same famous soundstages where films like Barbarella and Red Sonja were filmed (which numerous cast and crew found leftover props from). The special effects discussion concerning the marionette work and lighting involved to achieve the doll scenes is fascinating.
- Theatrical Trailer- This original theatrical trailer for Dolls runs about 2 ½ minutes and provides viewers with a fun and surprisingly gory look at the kind of film they’re getting themselves into.
- Film-to-Storyboard Comparison- This fun featurette runs over 8 minutes and includes select scenes from the film itself along with a “mini-screen” storyboard comparison. Scenes include: Teddy’s Revenge, Rosemary Takes a Dive, and Punch’s Little Secret. It’s interesting to see how the filmmakers planned these difficult sequences through storyboarding and how they actually played out on camera. Great stuff!
- Still Gallery- This still gallery runs over 4 minutes in length and plays automatically when selected; featuring several production stills, theatrical posters, and select advertising from the film’s theatrical campaign.
- More from Scream Factory- Vintage trailers for other titles in the Scream Factory line are presented here including Pumpkinhead, Phantom of the Paradise, and Sleepaway Camp.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features a newly commissioned slip-cover design from artist Nathan Thomas Milliner. The coloring, detail, and overall atmosphere than emanates from the new art is outstanding! On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a list of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the Blu-Ray disc as well as the iconic original theatrical poster design with the “They Walk. They Talk. They Kill” tagline banner available as a reversible wrap.
Stuart Gordon’s Dolls is injected with brilliant dark humor, some insanely cool special effects, and a cast that clearly understands the genre and gives it their all, making for an enjoyable horror film that is scary, silly, and cleverly self-aware. The video quality on this brand new Blu-Ray edition is stellar, sporting an incredibly clean transfer that retains the authentic film grain and boasts an impressive amount of detail. The audio track also suits the film well, delivering the dolls’ mayhem and the creepy score in fine dynamic form. As per the usual, Scream Factory has done it again in the area of special features, with the wonderful documentary Toys of Terror among other fun extras. It may take a certain brand of Horror fan to appreciate Dolls, with its over-the-top humor and corny nature, but I found it to be a heck of a lot of fun. This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory comes highly recommended!
Blu-Ray Review- Squirm
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: October 28th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
I’m not ashamed to admit that the first time I saw Squirm was on the infamous Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. Growing up in Minnesota in the 1990’s, MST3K introduced me to many horror, cult, and science fiction titles that I may otherwise have never seen. And like many of those films that were so hilariously “riffed” on the show, I would come to appreciate Squirm with and without the riffing. It may not be the most polished Horror production, but it’s damn creepy and certainly charming with its low budget southern atmosphere.
In Squirm, Don Scardino plays Mick, a young man on his way to Fly Creek, Georgia when the bus that carries him can go no further due to the flooding in the area, a result of a recent thunderstorm. Mick makes his way through the swampy terrain on foot to see his darling girlfriend Geri (Patricia Pearcy), intending to stay awhile with her family as he gets to know Fly Creek and it’s stand-offish inhabitants a little better. Little does Mick know that because the power lines were knocked down in the recent storm, the resulting electricity has given the worms in the soil super strength and general ferocity, and soon the townsfolk are up to their elbows in mutant creepy crawlies of all shapes and sizes.
Corpses begin to appear around town with their flesh ripped directly from the bone, worms slither out of showerheads and through people’s faces, among other creepy shenanigans. With little help from the local Sheriff (Peter MacLean) and time running out, Mick and Geri launch their own investigation into why the worms have invaded their town and concoct a plan to stop them.
Revisiting Squirm after many years was a delight in more ways than one. Sure, the film has the B movie stamp written all over it, with a generally low budget feel, some shoddy editing, and supporting players that seem to have been cast right out of the produce section at the Piggly Wiggly. But this film has oodles of charm! The main cast truly gives it their all, making their down-home characters quite believable in an otherwise ridiculous scenario. The gross-out effects from a then relatively unknown Rick Baker are a delight as well, providing plenty of barf bag moments for viewers (especially if you’re sensitive to our slithery soil dwelling friends). Squirm fits right in as part of Scream Factory’s ever-growing line of Horror treats, and I enjoyed revisiting the film on this brand new Blu-Ray edition.
It’s safe to say that you’re going to be quite astonished at how incredibly good Squirm looks on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory. Going in, especially with its low budget nature, I prepared myself for a likely rough-looking presentation, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This High Definition viewing experience provides one of the cleanest transfers of a low-budget Horror film I’ve ever seen on the format. The print provides authentic natural film grain that is ever present and without any signs of digital manipulation. Colors look period-accurate and maintain stability throughout, fine object detail is shockingly pristine in most cases, and there is nary a scratch or blemish to be seen. It’s incredible, and slightly fascinating as to how the hell this looks so good on Blu-Ray.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is more in line with my expectations going in, but that’s not to say it’s a disappointment in the slightest. Dialogue is always crystal clear and the track has some oomph thanks to the HD upgrade. The score and background effects balance is slightly limited, sometimes wavering in its ability to present the audio without a “tinny” or ringing dynamic attached. Given the nature of the film, it really does sound just fine, and any limitations are likely the result of the original audio source.
Scream Factory has given Squirm the Collector’s Edition treatment with some great bonus features for Horror fans. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Jeff Lieberman– Director Jeff Lieberman gives an in-depth and focused commentary here, providing an insightful listening experience for fans of the film. In between discussing the cast, special effects, and filmmaking techniques, Jeff is pretty funny as he naturally reacts to scenes from the film (including goofs, plot logic, etc.). Jeff talking about calling into a local television station that chose to play Squirm in black and white is especially fun, as he called not to complain but to praise them because he loved how the film looked! This is an insanely fun commentary to listen to.
- Digging In: The Making of Squirm- Lasting roughly 33 minutes, this brand new documentary from Aine Leicht and the folks at Shout! Factory provides fans of the film with plenty of fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, production details, and fun memories from the cast and crew. Director Jeff Lieberman and actor Don Scardino in particular are often hilarious to listen to, with more than a handful of funny anecdotes to share. I especially enjoyed the discussion about using the locals for supporting roles in the film. Once again Leicht and company have put together a well edited and insightful documentary for fans! Great stuff!
- Eureka! With Jeff Lieberman- Running just over 7 minutes, this is yet another fun featurette (once again from Leicht & Shout!) where Director Jeff Lieberman leaves the interview chair and brings us (quite literally) to the home he lived in when he came up with the idea for Squirm. It was nice to hear not only about the films inception, but about Lieberman’s beginnings in the industry.
- Original Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for Squirm runs just under two minutes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you got to love those voice overs!
- TV Spot- This vintage television spot runs under a minute and gives viewers a pretty good idea of what they’re in for.
- Radio Spot- This actual radio spot from the theatrical promotion runs just over a minute and is very effective!
- Still Gallery- This still gallery plays automatically when selected and features some fantastic color and black and white photographs from the making of the film.
- More from Scream Factory- Vintage trailers for other titles in the Scream Factory line are presented here including Pumpkinhead, Motel Hell, and The Beast Within.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features a newly commissioned slip-cover design from Artist Paul Shipper, who also recently worked on their Halloween Complete Collection. The coloring is gritty and perfect, with Roger’s worm-invaded face and Geri’s half naked shower surprise, the selected moments he chose to portray suit the film nicely. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the Blu-Ray disc as well as the amazing original theatrical “skull” poster design available as a reversible wrap.
Squirm on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory is creepy, crawly, High Definition gross-out fun! Though I first saw the film as a kid when it was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the film has its charms with or without the riff-track. Though the B-movie creature feature clearly shows its production budget, the then-amateur cast gives it their all, and the gross-out effects from Rick Baker provide for plenty of barf bag fun. I’m still quite shocked at how incredibly good Squirm looks on this brand new Blu-Ray transfer as well, with nary a blemish to be found and an audio track that works just fine. The special features on this Collector’s Edition are once again a standout aspect, especially with the wonderfully detailed and entertaining Digging In: The Making of Squirm documentary. Squirm fits right in as part of Scream Factory’s ever-growing line of Horror treats, and I enjoyed revisiting the film on this brand new Blu-Ray edition. Recommended!
Blu-Ray Review- The Doctor and the Devils
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: November 4th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
“A man of medicine. A pair of murderers. An unholy alliance.”
-Theatrical tagline for The Doctor and the Devils
Based upon the factual murders committed by William Burke and William Hare in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1828, The Doctor and the Devils comes from an original screenplay by Dylan Thomas and is Directed by Hammer alum Freddie Francis. The film stars Timothy Dalton as Dr. Thomas Rock, an Anatomy Professor who has been paying local henchman to dig up the graves of the recently deceased for his fascinating lectures at the academy. Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea play Robert Fallon and Timothy Broom, two degenerate crooks who get word of Dr. Rock’s grave-robbing business and are looking to make a profit. When finding the right bodies proves to be more difficult than they imagined, they take to killing unsuspecting young lads in the area (as Dr. Rock pays more for fresh corpses).
Rumors soon begin to spread about Dr. Rock’s supposed late night activities, and his rival, Professor Macklin (Patrick Stewart), sends student “spies” to attend his lectures to gain proof of his access to dead bodies “not from the hangman.” Dr. Rock makes implications to the macabre shenanigans, but lack of clear proof in the matter holds the authorities at bay. As the murders begin to hit too close to home for Dr. Rock and his assistant, and moral tension mounts between Fallon and Broom, these colorful characters’ lives arrive at an inevitable climax that spells certain doom for all.
The Doctor and the Devils has that handsomely produced Gothic feel to it, thanks to Hammer and Amicus alumni Freddie Francis. From the period costume design to the gothic set dressing and talented array of performers giving it their all, the film is exceptionally well executed. Having ignorantly never seen Timothy Dalton outside of the Bond films he made in the late 1980’s, it was a treat to see his genuine commanding presence on display in a period piece. The score by John Morris is worth mentioning as well, with its gothic and mysterious tone that exudes curiosity and stays with you for days. There are also some genuinely disturbing moments in the film, in particular, when Fallon suffocates a young man to death for the first time as he relates how he was asked to put soldiers out of their misery during his time spent as an orderly in the war. Broom pleads with him; “wait Fallon….wait, wait. For God’s sake, wait.” It’s an unnerving scene, expertly acted by both Pryce and Rea. I assure you that you’re in for a fine evening with this one, and this release from Scream Factory makes for a classy addition to their ever-growing line of Horror gems.
Though I’ll admit I became a little worried during the 20th Century Fox logo and opening shot of Dalton walking against the Edinburgh skyline (which has its share of debris), it soon after becomes immediately clear that The Doctor and the Devils looks incredibly good on this High Definition presentation. For some reason I see a lot of 1980’s films that have some scratches and anomalies in the opening credits that soon clear up incredibly well (not sure why that is). But let’s get right to it: The Doctor and the Devils retains the authentic natural film grain of the source material, has incredibly solid black levels, and even exhibits surprisingly good detail in objects, facial features, and costumes. There are a handful of seemingly soft or unfocused shots, no doubt a result of the original negative, but worth pointing out. This is a fine presentation that really exhibits a solid upgrade to High Definition.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is solid, regularly balancing dialogue, background effects, and the lovely score from John Morris in fine fashion. There is some power and depth to the audio that is quite surprising at times, and paired with the great video, it makes for a finely presented experience.
Scream Factory has given The Doctor and the Devils some select bonus features for this non-collector’s edition release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary with Steve Haberman– Author Steve Haberman sits down to discuss The Doctor and the Devils in great detail. The commentary is incredibly informative, but comes off a bit too dry and robotic, sounding as if Haberman is reading directly from a script. It lacks the fun, off-the-cuff style of previous commentaries from the Scream line. This is in no way a knock on Haberman, who is clearly an absolute scholar on the film and its history, but it simply comes off a bit dull at times.
- Interviews- This phenomenal three-way interview has Mel Brooks, Jonathan Sanger, and Randy Auerbach discussing The Doctor and the Devils for nearly 16 minutes. There isn’t a moderator but the trio discusses the film in depth. From Dylan Thomas’ wonderful screenplay to various pre-production issues, reminiscing about filming and the acting talent, and even having the “Mel Brooks” name on a genre film other than comedy. This is very entertaining stuff, and I love the fact that Shout! Factory just let the trio carry on their discussion in their way. Brooks in particular is just so entertaining to listen to, especially when he reflects on the differences in filmmaking from then to now: “But during my time making movies, there were friendships. You could actually ask people for a favor.” Bittersweet and fascinating, this featurette is wonderful.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just over 1 ½ minutes and though it’s in pretty rough condition, it offers an accurate glimpse at the type of movie that awaits you.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover, looking like a sepia toned sketch from an old book of medicine. The red title font provides a fine contrast to the drawing design, making for simple but effective cover art. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the disc as well as some nice background art featuring a grave-robbing scene from early in the film.
The Doctor and the Devils may just be Scream Factory’s classiest film released in their ever-growing line of Horror delights. Masterfully directed by Hammer alum Freddie Francis and featuring fine performances from everyone involved, this polished cinematic version of the Burke & Hare murders is both clever and unnerving. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features an incredibly solid High Definition presentation, complete with authentic color grading and solid black levels, and the audio is surprisingly well balanced and dynamic. The special features department offers a wonderful conversation with Producer Mel Brooks, Jonathan Sanger, and Randy Auerbach, as well as an informative audio commentary. Though I felt that the included audio commentary was a bit robotic, it’s a small complaint on an otherwise great disc. The Doctor and the Devils remains an entertaining and gorgeously produced Gothic Horror entry that reminds one of Hammer films’ heyday, and this Blu-Ray edition comes highly recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- The Vincent Price Collection II
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: October 21st 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color/B&W, Multiple Aspect Ratios, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Runtime: 588 Minutes
When you think of the Horror greats of the past century, who comes to mind? There have been so many iconic performances from truly talented and memorable ladies and gentleman of the genre over the years, and it’s likely a hard task for any devoted film fan to just pick one. From Lugosi to Chaney, and Karloff to Lee, there are those masters of the stage and screen who simply understood their audience well enough to unleash the thrills in a focused onslaught of perfection. But for my money, there never will be anyone quite like Mr. Vincent Price. He was such a commanding presence on screen, from his tall stature to his iconic mustache, a simple lift of an eyebrow or a tweak in his vocal inflection could bring a smile to his fans all over the world. He was a lover of art, a doting father, and a man that seemed content with his typecasting in the Horror genre, despite being a loveable, kind, and giving soul in real life (a far cry from some of the wicked men he portrayed on screen). He was also multi-talented, able to convey sinister dread in a non-speaking role like Dr. Phibes, saying so much with just his eyes and expression. He could portray damaged and desperate, such as his turn as Robert Morgan in The Last Man on Earth. Even in his later years, a minor role in Edward Scissorhands (as the title character’s genius creator) would leave us smiling and heartbroken at an elderly man’s glee and pride in caring for his unique “child.”
Perusing Scream Factory’s upcoming release for The Vincent Price Collection II brought on two personal revelations: the first being that, without a shadow of a doubt, the distributor’s Vincent Price collections represent the very best in their brilliant catalog of macabre treats. You can simply watch them on any rainy day the entire way through, appreciating the man and his work on so many levels. The selections are diverse, thoroughly engaging, and showcase the artist at his very best. The second revelation would be that there has never been a Horror star quite like Mr. Price. The man knew how to lure the audience into his performance, buy into a film’s concept, and have a frightfully enjoyable time at the movies. He is a legend of the silver screen, and there simply isn’t a better way to enjoy his work than spinning these fine discs from Scream Factory.
This latest Volume II release features seven wonderful horror gems 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. Rather than bore you with a lengthy multiple page essay on each film, here are my quick thoughts on each of these titles after revisiting them in High Definition:
- The Raven (1963)- Resembling very little of the Edgar Allen Poe source material, this reworking of The Raven is a delightful horror comedy from the Corman-Poe adaptations, and along with The Comedy of Terrors, stands out as unique among the films presented in Collection II. Having grown a little tired of the formula and wanting to branch out into the unknown, Roger Corman and screenwriter Richard Matheson decided to make this particular Poe adaptation an all-out comedy, and the result truly works. Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff all deliver fine performances here as sorcerers in the 15th century. Price wants nothing more than to have his wife Lenore back, years after she seemingly died. Lorre’s been transformed into a raven by Karloff and comes “tapping” at Price’s window, and the pair soon travels to Karloff’s castle, one to battle with his arch nemesis, and the other to find his wife (who Lorre swears he has seen roaming the castle). Featuring some standout improvised comedy from the trio with oodles of chemistry to delight in, The Raven is just about as good as it gets. This isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, it’s simply “cute” and clever every step of the way.
- The Comedy of Terrors (1963)- Yet another comedic delight from American International Pictures that features Price and Lorre as partners in the undertaking business. When the rent is due and money becomes scarce, the pair decides to start murdering townsfolk in order to bring in some business. Boris Karloff makes an appearance as the hard-of-hearing Mr. Hinchley, and Basil Rathbone is equally as enjoyable as their landlord. The ad-libs and jokes come fast, exhibiting a similar clever charm in the same vein as The Raven.
- The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)- The last of the Corman-Poe adaptations is also one of my personal favorites, featuring Price as the grieving and bitter Verden Fell, who has recently lost his wife Ligeia. When he marries again, the spirit of Ligeia seems to haunt the couples’ mansion, unable and unwilling to let her husband move on with his life. Though Corman apparently felt that Price was too old for the part, I think he’s simply wonderful here, conveying the sorrow and rage of the widowed Fell with great believability. The outdoor scenery, atypical for a Corman production, is gorgeous, and the gothic interiors fit well with the Corman-Poe catalog. It’s not a particularly scary film by any means, but the dedication and care is obvious, making for a respectable final Poe adaptation from American International Pictures.
- The Last Man on Earth (1964)- This is without a doubt the very best screen adaptation of Richard Matheson’s source material, I am Legend. It also might just be my personal favorite Vincent Price film. Mr. Price stars as Dr. Robert Morgan (Neville in the book), the seemingly lone human survivor of a deadly outbreak that decimated the world population, turning those who died from its symptoms into vampires of the night. Three years after the outbreak, Morgan spends his days stocking up on the necessities and hunting down the vampires of his city as they sleep, and in turn, spends his nights defending his boarded-up home from the sinister creatures. Through flashback narrative we’re able to see what Morgan’s life was like before and during the outbreak before he unexpectedly meets a fellow survivor on what appears to be another routine day for him. I won’t spoil too much more of this horror classic, but it’s simply one of the best there is! Price’s narration of his day-to-day routine reel me in every time, and his performance here as a broken man who desperately hangs onto hope is one of his best. To think that Matheson opined that he was miscast in the role is mind boggling. The black and white cinematography is the icing on the cake, as this is impeccably filmed and realized on screen (even with the occasional crew member appearing in the background). I simple love this movie!
- Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)- The master of plagues is at it again, three years following the events of the first film. Dr. Phibes (Price) awakens from a self-induced hibernation with his beloved dead wife, who he soon hopes to awaken with the help of his assistant, Vulnavia (this time around played by Valli Kemp). With his mansion destroyed and the special scrolls he needed for his wife’s resurrection stolen, a new series of inventive deaths are unleashed upon those who get in his way. This time around, the kills fall in line with the Egyptian theme of the story, with sand storms and scorpions, among others, providing for some delectable misdeeds. The sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes retains the dark humor of the first film, and is nearly just as fun, with Price truly hamming it up and enjoying his role once again. Though I prefer the original, this one is certainly a lot of fun, with great performances and consistent entertainment. The finale is especially twisted and brilliant.
- The Return of the Fly (1959)- Released only a year after the original classic, this sequel has Price reprising his role as Francois Delambre, brother to the ill-fated scientist Andre Delambre of the first film. Opening with his sister-in-law’s funeral, Francois tries his best to convince his nephew Philippe to not follow in his father’s footsteps, warning him that continuing his experiments with the teleportation of matter may have dire consequences. Philippe is not easily swayed, taking on a new partner from his Uncle’s company, and diving right back into the teleportation experiments. When Philippe’s new partner double crosses him to turn a profit on the machine, things go awry for Philippe, and a new fly-human hybrid is on the loose! For me, this sequel isn’t quite as engaging as the first film, but still has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment value. The acting is just fine, and though Price’s time on screen is still limited (as it was in the first film), he seems to be having fun returning to his role. The fly-human hybrid effects are just as creepy this time around, and the film moves swiftly and efficiently for the viewer, making for a respectable sequel.
- House on Haunted Hill (1959)- This William Castle classic has Vincent Price portraying Frederick Loren, a mysterious and sadistic millionaire who, along with his equally creepy wife Annabelle, has invited five strangers to their “haunted house party.” Once the clock strikes midnight, the doors will be locked and everyone will be forced to stay in the house until morning, no matter what paranormal happenings occur within. Frederick has provided each of the guests with a loaded gun (complete with a tiny gun coffin), to add a little more danger into the mix. When strange things begin to occur (including one of my all-time favorite jump scares with the old woman in the basement), trust dwindles among the group, and Annabelle tries to warn the guests that Frederick is psychotic, and that the night that lies before them may not be what it seems. I won’t reveal any spoiler plot details, but the twists and turns in this horror classic make for sheer Halloween viewing delight! This is one of Price’s best performances as well, nailing the passive aggressive and sadistic nature of his character. It’s also incredibly well framed and filmed in glorious black and white, making for a wonderful old school horror experience.
Presented in both color and black and white prints, these High Definition transfers all look fairly solid, some even pristine, on the format. The color timing has been properly adjusted when appropriate, and though some titles in the set exhibit some minor print wear and scratches, it’s all part of the fun when it comes to classic Horror! Film grain is always present and authentically produced, and there is some surprising detail in the costume design and facial features across the board. As an admirer of black and white films, I was especially delighted to see the transfers on The Last Man on Earth, Return of the Fly, and House on Haunted Hill handled so well. Contrast is appropriately balanced and detail and grain look beautiful, and the minor scratches and slight imperfections bring the nostalgia back in full force. The color prints on The Raven, The Comedy of Terrors, The Tomb of Ligeia, and Dr. Phibes Rise Again look very solid indeed, with accurately reproduced colors and detail looking nice in the set design and costumes. The color films, particularly The Comedy of Terrors, occasionally suffer from a handful of soft shots (appearing like Vaseline smear), which I’m guessing is likely inherent to the source material. There are no big anomalies or intrusive manipulation here, and the films look better than I’ve ever seen them appear. Fans will be delighted with how good these Horror classics look on the format!
Every film in the set features a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track, and though they’re not likely to challenge your system with power or dynamics, they feel accurately reproduced and get the job done. Dialogue is always clear and discernable, music sounds balanced and undistorted, and background effects and thrilling high points are well maintained on each disc.
Scream Factory has given Vincent Price fans a fully-loaded set with some great bonus features to peruse on a dark and stormy night! Rather than bore my readers with a listing of each and every bonus feature found on these individual discs, I’ll simply breakdown some of my favorite material from the set as a whole. With multiple great audio commentaries to peruse featuring the likes of Roger Corman, David Del Valle, and Steve Haberman, those of you that wish to know more about the making of the films and Price’s history working on them will not be disappointed. Del Valle in particular is extremely fascinating to listen to. The Raven, The Comedy of Terrors, and The Last Man on Earth all feature the wonderful Richard Matheson: Storyteller segments which feature the screenwriter/author discussing his work on the films. I especially loved hearing Matheson discuss the Horror greats’ (Price, Lorre, Karloff) collaboration on The Comedy of Terrors, admiring their love for the genre and delight at having some campy fun on set. But my very favorite bonus feature additions to this set are once again the Iowa Public Television Gothic Horrors segments where Vincent Price himself offered introductions and farewell bookend videos to various films in his career. I love seeing Price dressed up, fire roaring, in a secluded mansion as he introduces the viewers to each film. Though there isn’t much in the way of newly produced bonus content, the carried over MGM features and IPT Gothic Horrors segments alone are brilliant enough to recommend.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features newly-commissioned artwork from fan-favorite artist Joel Robinson on the slip-case, which much like the first collection, reveals the female skeletons in the paintings when you pull out the Blu-Ray case itself. I love Robinson’s vision, and the framed art pieces pay tribute to Vincent’s love for art. On the reverse of the slip-case, you’ll find a listing of special features and technical specifications for all seven films in the set. Inside the slip-case is a beautifully created booklet featuring gorgeous production stills and posters from the various films in the set, as well as a wonderful essay written by David Del Valle. Inside of the Blu-Ray case are the various discs with a classy yet simple design that matches the rest of the set. Fans of Vincent Price and his work couldn’t ask for anything better.
There has never been, and likely will never be again, a Horror star quite like Mr. Vincent Price. This latest collection, as well as the first, represents the very best of what Scream Factory has to offer. For a fan of classic Horror and an admirer of the late, great, Vincent Price, sitting down to enjoy a marathon of his very best films in High Definition is a dream come true. Scream Factory has loaded these discs with some great special features including several audio commentaries, informative featurettes, and my personal favorite; the continuing additions of Iowa Public Television’s Gothic Horrors introduction segments featuring the man himself. Video and audio quality is overall terrific, rounding out this great package. If you’re looking for the perfect Halloween season entertainment, The Vincent Price Collection II receives my highest recommendation.
Blu-Ray Review- The Battery
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: September 16th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 100 Minutes
Just when you thought the Zombie subgenre couldn’t possibly have anything else original to offer, along comes The Battery. Filmed in just 15 days on a shoestring budget, unlike many independent horror films, The Battery doesn’t look or feel “cheap.” In fact, the film features surprisingly stunning cinematography and fine performances from filmmakers/actors Jeremy Gardner and Adam Cronheim.
In The Battery, we meet Ben (Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), two former baseball player buddies just trying to survive the day to day hopelessness and despair that is the zombie apocalypse. Ben is the more resourceful and useful of the two, having learned the skills he needs to survive (killing zombies, fishing, etc.), while Mickey would rather sit around listening to music on his headphones and killing time scratching off useless lottery tickets. Mickey wants to sleep indoors where he feels they will be safer from the zombie hordes, while Ben opposes this idea, feeling they are safer when they’re constantly moving and able to easily escape their surroundings. The film is not structured in your typical fashion, with its non-linear narrative focusing more on the relationship between the Ben and Mickey than any specific events that occur. They laugh and joke, they argue, they fight, and makeup. This is what friends do, after all. Even the events that do occur during the film, such as the prospect of joining other survivors they come in contact with over walkie-talkie’s, is more of a source for conflict between friends than a crucial “tipping point” in the plotline.
Having said that, it kind of goes without saying that The Battery is not your typical Zombie film, or Horror film for that matter, but it’s a surprisingly enjoyable and unique film in the genre. I hope typical Horror fans that are looking for relentless action, zombie guts, and hordes of undead mayhem are able to look deeper, and enjoy this thoughtful little gem. The chemistry between Gardner and Cronheim is what makes The Battery so special, allowing for significant exploration of the friendship dynamic set against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. There are also some incredibly funny moments that occur, I mean where else are you going to see someone masturbate to a zombie? Did I mention the music is insanely good? It’s just another reason to sit down with a cold one and enjoy what’s in store between Ben and Mickey. This is a fine film, and I’m glad Scream Factory has unleashed it to the masses as part of their ever-growing collection of the macabre treats of celluloid.
Even given the budgetary constraints, this is a fine looking transfer from Scream Factory. Colors are bright and bold, highlighting the lush green grass and hot summer days in which the film takes place. The film has a gritty and often intentionally unfocused look to it, which comes across beautifully in High Definition. Detail is especially clear, with facial features and foreground objects exhibiting a very lifelike presence. This is a solid presentation of the film for the format.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is fairly good, delivering a dialogue heavy presentation without any anomalies to speak of throughout. This isn’t going to put your system to the test or wake the neighbors, but it’s especially well balanced where it needs to be, with the subtle background noises of the wilderness and occasional gunfire and splatter effects coming through clean and clear.
Scream Factory has provided fans of The Battery with an array of bonus material for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary– Jeremy Gardner (writer, director, actor), Adam Cronheim (producer, actor), and Christian Stella (Director of Photography) discuss the film in great length here, with hardly any silent spots throughout this audio commentary. If you’ve already watched the Tools of Ignorance documentary, much of this is rehashed, not that it hurts. These guys are very fun to listen to and hearing about their adventure making this film is worthwhile.
- Tools of Ignorance: The Making of The Battery– O. hannah films provides a documentary piece that is pretty much the same length as the film itself. The cast and crew is really likeable, and this documentary sheds light on the early days of the filmmakers including their first short film efforts, writing and financing The Battery, and much more. These guys truly made their dreams come true, and their heart is in the right place. Great stuff!
- Trailer- The original theatrical trailer runs almost exactly 2 minutes and features a fun soundtrack for the film, highlighting some of the unique camera setups, and the unique direction the crew decided to take with this indie Horror offering.
- Outtakes- Nearly 12 minutes of outtakes from the film. Lots of random test shots, goofs, and production footage from behind the scenes of the film.
- Rock Plaza Central at the Parlor- Running nearly 11 minutes, this short featurette has O. hannah films spending a weekend with Rock Plaza Central’s Chris Eaton and Don Murray as they rehearsed to play live for the first time in several years. They make sandwiches, play acoustic guitar in the kitchen, among other things. This is some beautifully shot raw footage of the band practicing.
- More from Scream Factory– Original theatrical trailers for other modern titles from the Scream Factory catalog including: Beneath, Dead Shadows, and Chilling Visions: Five Senses of Fear.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features newly-commissioned artwork from artist RP “Kung Fu Bob” O’Brien, as well as reversible art that features the original theatrical poster design. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, production stills, a list of special features, and technical specifications. Inside the case is the Blu-Ray disc complete with more artwork (see photos below).
The Battery is not your typical Zombie film, or typical Horror film for that matter, but it’s a surprisingly enjoyable and unique entry in the genre. This is about friendship and the challenges that we face when things go awry in our lives, and less about gory zombie hordes ripping apart the masses. The chemistry between Gardner and Cronheim is what makes the film so special, allowing for significant exploration of the friendship dynamic set against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory exhibits a fine presentation of the great cinematography, with bright solid colors and fine object detail highlighting the transfer. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio highlights the dialogue and music well enough, while never necessarily pushing your home theater to the limits. The special features are once again well assembled and impressive, with a great documentary on the making of the film that is nearly as long as the movie itself. The Battery is a funny, dark, and inventive Horror entry that comes highly recommended for those of you willing to try something a little different. This is a fine film, and I’m glad Scream Factory has unleashed it to the masses as part of their ever-growing collection of the macabre treats of celluloid.
Blu-Ray Review- Pumpkinhead: Collector’s Edition
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: September 9th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 86 Minutes
“For each of man’s evils, a special demon exists. You’re looking at vengeance, cruel, devious, pure-as-venom vengeance.”
–Haggis in Pumpkinhead
Released into theaters in 1988, Pumpkinhead remains one of the late, great Stan Winston’s few directorial efforts. Inspired by a creepy poem by Ed Justin, the film received a mixed reaction upon its theatrical release, but thankfully went on to develop a fervent cult following over the years from die-hard fans of the film (myself included). Simply put, it’s one of the best modern day fairy tales with a dark horror twist, and not only features outstanding performances from everyone involved, but one of the scariest creature designs in Horror history.
The opening prologue set in 1957 instantly conjures goose-bumps as we’re introduced to Tom Harley, his wife, and son Ed. Ed watches in horror as his father, shotgun in hand, locks up the horses, bars the door to their home, and waits patiently for something to emerge from the darkness of the woods. Soon a desperate and terrified man is running away from an unseen monster, and begins to pound on the Harley’s door for help. Tom refuses, citing his obligation to protect his family. The monster brutally kills the man as young Ed watches from his bedroom window.
Fast forward to the present day, and Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) is all grown up, a father himself to his young son Billy. They live on the very same farm that his family has passed down through the years, and run the local Harley & Son Grocery store. They have a wonderful father-son relationship built around unconditional love, daily routines, and story time around the dinner table. One day while tending to the store, a group of dirt-bike racers and their girlfriends from out of town use the dirt paths in the nearby fields to stage some trick jumps for photographs. With Ed having to run back home to grab some feed he promised to a customer, young Billy is left to take care of the store with his dog in tow. When the dog escapes into the dirt-bike racing path, Billy gives chase, getting run over by a dirt bike, and eventually dies from his injuries. Most of the bikers leave the scene, afraid of the consequences that will likely follow.
Heartbroken over the death of his son, and filled with rage toward the bikers, Ed Harley visits a creepy old woman in the middle of the woods who is able to conjure the Pumpkinhead demon from his slumber. Once brought back to life, Pumpkinhead begins to slay the out-of-towners one by one. A guilt-ridden Ed, able to telepathically “experience” the carnage as it happens, moves past his hate and grief to help the young folks in a final battle against Pumpkinhead. That’s all I’m going to say about the film, as this is definitely one you’ll want to experience for yourself.
Revisiting Pumpkinhead on this brand new Blu-Ray edition was an absolute treat! Stan Winston’s direction is masterful, highlighting the Southern Gothic atmosphere with sweat-drenched sunshine and fog-filled moonlight, nearly every scene leaps off the page of a fairy tale. The acting is superb, especially from Lance Henriksen and Matthew Hurley, who truly make an impact on the viewers as we experience their happiness and eventual devastation. I loved the opening moments between father and son; such a touching relationship that enhances the audiences involvement in the terrifying events that follow. The creature design on Pumpkinhead itself remains impressive, and made me smile reminiscing about the good old days of animatronics and practical effects. This is a modern day Horror classic as far as I’m concerned.
As a lifelong fan of Pumpkinhead, my anticipation was high for this Blu-Ray release, and I can say without a doubt that this is the best the film has ever looked on home video. The color grading is especially impressive, with the summer days drenched in golden hues, and the moonlight blues of the humid nights on bold display. The natural film grain has been left intact, and there is an abundance of detail in facial features, clothing, and the slimy skin of Pumpkinhead itself. The transfer is very clean to boot, with artifacts or anomalies to report. As Horror fans, we couldn’t ask for anything more, Pumpkinhead looks great in High Definition!
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is another high point, with dialogue, Richard Stone’s creepy score, and background effects coming through clean and clear on your home theater system. There is a nice balance to everything presented, from the quiet, peaceful opening scenes on Ed and Billy’s property, to the frenetic terror and action of the finale, everything sounds great in High Definition audio.
Scream Factory has provided fans of Pumpkinhead with a fully-loaded Collector’s Edition featuring some truly fantastic bonus material for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary– Featuring co-screenwriter Gary Gerani, creature & F/X creators Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis, and filmmaker/moderator Scott Spiegel, this is one of the better audio commentaries I’ve heard in some time. There is never a dull moment here, the group is talkative, informative, and relate some fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the making of the film.
- Pumpkinhead: Unearthed- Split into several chapters and lasting over an hour, this documentary from Red Shirt Pictures and Scream Factory delves into all things Pumpkinhead: from original concepts and design, to screenwriting and Stan Winston’s involvement, and casting to special effects, it doesn’t get any better than this for Horror fans! We also get to hear from the cast including Cynthia Bain, Kerry Remsen, Brian Bremer, Florence Schauffler, and Lance Henriksen among others. I particularly enjoyed Brian Bemer reminiscing about having to do multiple takes because he couldn’t stop laughing when Pumpkinhead found him in the closet. Lance Henriksen also provides some fun stories relating to how he was able to get into his character, from obtaining fake teeth to buying his own props to enhance the realism, he’s always fun to listen to. The ad-libbed line regarding his Grandmother washing his hands is touching. It’s an in-depth and revealing look behind-the-scenes of the production, and the cast and crew share some delightful stories. Great stuff!
- Pumpkinhead: Behind the Scenes- Scream Factory has provided some fascinating footage from the making of the film, including Tom Woodruff Jr. testing out the costume design for the first time, molding and painting the various pieces in the workshop, and testing the final suit with mechanical elements in place. This one runs a little over 7 minutes.
- Night of the Demon (w/Richard Weinman)- This is an extended interview with Richard Weinman (who co-wrote the story) from Red Shirt Pictures. Richard provides us details on his involvement in the film, how the production came to fruition, and some more in-depth details, some that were previously discussed in the aforementioned Unearthed documentary. Runs about 17 minutes.
- The Redemption of Joel (w/John D’Aquino)- One thing is certain, John D’Aquino possesses an anti-aging potion that he needs to bottle, sell, and provide to the masses! The man looks great! This is yet another extended interview from Red Shirt Pictures featuring the actor detailing his involvement in the film, his character’s bad choice and resulting consequences, and much more.
- The Boy with the Glasses (w/Matthew Hurley)- This great extended interview runs about 14 ½ minutes and features Matthew Hurley, who played young Billy Harley in the film. This is probably my favorite featurette on the disc behind the Unearthed documentary. Matthew talks about how he got involved in the film, coming from a Christian background and being involved in a Horror movie, working with Lance Henriksen and Stan Winston, and much more. Billy is such a vital and important character in Pumpkinhead, and it was a treat to listen to Matthew discussing his role as a child actor.
- Demonic Toys- This short segment runs nearly five minutes and features sculptor Jean St. Jean discussing his work on the Pumpkinhead design. He talks issues involving the design itself, including weighing and balancing the different features to make the creature work on film.
- Remembering the Monster Kid: A Tribute to Stan Winston- Lasting nearly 50 minutes, this is another standout documentary from Aine Leicht and Scream Factory involving various industry professionals, actors, and other relevant people remembering Stan Winston and the legendary work he left behind. This is wonderfully edited together, informative, and fun. What a legend!
- Still Gallery- About 14 minutes of production stills from the film in High Definition.
- Theatrical Trailer- I love and miss seeing that U/A logo! The original theatrical trailer for the film gives viewers a fairly good idea of what they’re in for with Pumpkinhead. It’s creepy, intense, and showcases the wonderful cinematography well.
- More from Scream Factory- Vintage trailers for other Scream Factory titles including Motel Hell, Squirm, and Without Warning.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features newly-commissioned artwork from fan-favorite artist Justin Osbourn on the slip-cover. Simply put, this is one of my all-time favorite pieces of art from their collection. You have Pumpkinhead creeping over the scenery, Lance Henriksen ready for action with pitchfork in hand, and the pumpkin patch graveyard sprawled across the landscape. The coloring is perfect, and the detail is stunning, evoking the ideal atmosphere to accompany this release. On the reverse of the slip, you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills. Inside the case is the disc artwork as well as a reversible slip-sheet for those that prefer the original theatrical poster design. This is a hauntingly beautiful looking set!
Pumpkinhead is a modern day Horror classic as far as I’m concerned, and revisiting the film on this brand new Blu-Ray edition was an absolute treat! Stan Winston’s direction is masterful, highlighting the Southern Gothic atmosphere with sweat-drenched sunshine and fog-filled moonlight. The creature design is outstanding, and the father-son relationship between Lance Henriksen and Matthew Hurley feels so real in moments of happiness and devastation, making for a twisted fairy tale that comes to life on screen. The picture quality is superb, highlighting the golden summer hues and blue moonlight fog with exceptional clarity, and the HD audio is well balanced and effective. Once again, it’s in the special features department that Scream Factory knocks it out of the park with some truly fantastic documentaries and featurettes. Pumpkinhead kicks off Scream Factory’s Fall Frights in spectacular fashion, and comes highly recommended.