Sunday, February 28

Let's keep the heat on MGM to unleash THE VIDEO DEAD on DVD!

Two o' clock in the morning, I finally rolled out of bed, giving up on any further sleep. With my hair looking like Yahoo Serious, my feet tumbled down the stairs in search of the fridge. The crackling of the plastic bag containing leftover Taco Bell and the snap of Miller Lite tabs sounds incredible in the dead of night. Back in front of the television, I decide to open the vault and let the smell of slowly rotting magnetic tape and twenty-year-old cardboard wash over me. Despite having thirty-eight years worth of viewing material, I simply can't decide what in the hell to watch. Titles like Just Before Dawn, The Rue Morgue Massacres, and Night of the Howling Beast catch my glassy retinas. I eventually pick up a recently purchased, cheap copy of The Video Dead that doesn't even have a box.

This 1987 direct-to-video zombie homebrew isn't new to me. I've seen it twice already and wrote this tiny entry nearly one year to the day. I have no idea why I decided to give it a third unspooling through the ol' VCR since this one failed to really grab me before. Though by the time of my fourth beer and second chicken wrap, I'll be damned if The Video Dead didn't suddenly click--big time. This is a rare occurrence, as any rabid horror knows, a moment tantamount to Ash suddenly exclaiming "Groovy!", the drunk Santa-looking uncle from Troll 2 commanding "Stonehenge Magic Stone!", and Rhodes screaming "Choke on 'em!" all at once. Wading through mountains of crap, it's a plane of higher viewing that all movie buffs constantly strive for, but something that usually happens by accident. An experience probably unknown to your loved ones, those you work with, and those who bought tickets to Cop Out this weekend. Perhaps it was the beer or the ten packets of Hot Sauce, but The Video Dead became one of my tried and true comfort go-tos last night.

This isn't to say I consider this homely still MIA on DVD number a classic, but it's got spirit. Unlike a good portion of early horror DTVers, Robert Scott's film doesn't feel created solely for its great VHS cover. Any weathered tape collector is aware of the phenomena of cover art being a mask for truly crap content. This holds especially true for direct-to-video flicks in the '80s and preys upon our admitted weak knees over gloriously "HORROR" covers screaming at us from across the room. Hell, you could sell me on a video of Barney & Friends if the cover depicted a beautifully illustrated naked vivisected woman chained to a stonewall using all the colors of the rainbow with the torturer being Barney. Getting back to the point, the proof is in the slightly outdated Dollar Tree pudding when it comes to The Video Dead. It aims to place its meager resources in delivering on the promise of some goofball laughs, budget grue, zombies that look like burnt leaves, and a weekend rental well spent.

This is presumably old news to many of you guys, but be sure to support Chris MacGibbon's MySpace campaign to get The Video Dead a legit DVD release. Also check out this Bloody Disgusting interview with MacGibbon from back in November. We might be as close as ever to seeing this fun, grotty zombie flick finally pass into the digital age. It deserves inclusion in MGM's Midnite Movies line-up.

Saturday, February 27

Last House's LOLCat...

Before I forget, this cat is awesome. He's in Krug's slum apartment just before the ten minute mark. Awakened by Krug and Junior's knocking, he raises his head and shoots the camera this "yes? what the hell, dude?" look. Dunno, I laughed.

Last House on the Left DVD Comparison - U.S. vs. U.K. vs. France

I revisited Wes Craven's still brutal-as-ever The Last House on the Left last night. It really is a deserving landmark in American exploitation cinema, despite obvious amateurish warts of those behind the camera. Even though The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is often credited as the film to usher in modern horror filmmaking; the writing of this raw tide was clearly gouged into the golden age's wall with Craven's controversial debut a year or so earlier. Instead of the traditional hero eventually conquering a chimerical evil, a device that had near complete genre domination beforehand, Last House... is all about anticipation amidst a realism that could be happening right now all the while getting far too close to those perpetrating the horrible deeds. In this respect, this wait to see the fate of the girls and who gets the upper hand in the last reel is probably a larger part of what actually drove pissed off patrons storming from theaters in 1972. Craven, perhaps accidentally, teaches a masterclass in the steam being much hotter than the heat source.

Though Last House... is by no means perfect and the grumbles rest in Craven's treatment. In an attempt at failed levity, the whole bumbling cops routine (even with a young "Sweep the Leg" Martin Kove) is damn near as soul-shredding as seeing Phyllis become a gutpile. Especially the whole chicken truck bit. It makes you wish they would have run into an armed and irritated Krug. Also the Collingwood's letting the gaggle of murderers into their home posing as investors. If I had a child and he happened to missing for nearly a day; the last thing I'd want would be to play houseguest to any stranger(s). Of course, this sets up one hell of a climax, but it doesn't really ring true. Also Mari's parents running down to the pond to conveniently find her dead on the shore with no prior indication she was killed anywhere near the house. One last thing would be the vagueness of Junior being Krug's strung out son. Craven should have cast a younger man, maybe even an adolescent boy, to be Junior. Although I imagine theaters would have burned if a meth-headed twelve-year-old committed suicide at the angry command of his father on-screen. So maybe Craven was just looking out for theater owners. I'm actually tempted to check out last year's remake now more than ever to see what it does with these rough patches.

Onto the DVD comparison, but first a little of my personal history with copies. The very first copy I witnessed was provided by a trader friend I knew years ago. He was a big VHS dupe guy and usually sourced his tapes from Japanese Laserdiscs in his personal collection. I can't find the tape, but I remember the cover being a scan of CIC's Canadian VHS. The presentation was quite rough looking and very dark. Some scenes were so black it was virtually impossible to see what was going on besides the Japanese subtitles. Still, it was the most complete version long before MGM heard the cries of fans with their initial DVD. I've made it sort of a hobby within a hobby to collect various releases of the film. Unfortunately, I haven't had much luck with interesting VHS editions, but have a few DVDs from around the world.

I have both of MGM's U.S. editions, Anchor Bay's U.K. 2-Disc Special Edition, and Imatim Diffusion's French edition. Despite doubts, last year's MGM U.S. Collector's Edition edges out all others. It's a little brighter and features better compression than MGM's 2002 disc with a new encode. The Full Screen flipside of the 2003 MGM is definitely cropped and not merely unmatted.

Anchor Bay's 2003 British Special Edition is actually edited of 31 seconds mostly in the scenes of Mari's chest carving (completely omitted) and shots of Phyllis's stabbing. The picture quality isn't too different from the MGMs aside from some messier compression. The Anchor Bay SE also has a slightly alternate cut entitled "Krug & Company" which has the same violence cuts. Krug & Company is taken from a battered reddish print, but actually has a little more clarity and its frame opened more than any of the other releases. I've yet to check out the new British Metrodome uncut 3-Disc Ultimate Edition released in 2008. This release probably presents Krug & Company uncut as well. So maybe I'll update this entry with that one eventually...

Finally, the French Imatim Diffusion disc has the distinction of being the first DVD released of the film, limited to only a few thousand copies, and matches the unrated status of MGM editions. The picture quality leaves a lot desired. The clumpy transfer is quite yellowish, has compression issues, and covers this up with ample digital noise reduction. The framing is also strange with some shots noticeably zoomed in while others zoomed out more than the other editions shown here. Click the following shots for full size.

MGM U.S. 2002 TOP (R1, anamorphic, progressive, unrated) | MGM U.S. 2009 BOTTOM (R1, anamorphic, progressive, unrated)

Imatim Diffusion French 2000 (R2, PAL, anamorphic, progressive, unrated)

MGM U.S. 2002 TOP (R1, anamorphic, progressive, unrated) | MGM U.S. 2009 BOTTOM (R1, anamorphic, progressive, unrated)

Anchor Bay U.K. 2003 (R0, PAL, anamorphic, progressive, edited)

Anchor Bay U.K. 2003: KRUG & COMPANY (R0, PAL, anamorphic, progressive, edited)

Imatim Diffusion French 2000 (R2, PAL, anamorphic, progressive, unrated)

Thursday, February 25

Rarely Have I Been This Pissed, Annoyed, and Bored At One Time...

A week ago I received a VHS copy of Burr Jerger's General Massacre. A 1973 film directed, written, produced, and starring Mr. Jerger based on (inspired by?) his book, Massacre at My Lai. The actual massacre was undoubtedly an abhorrent act committed by out-of-control American soldiers and their commanders. A true black mark on American history from a period that many in the country are still struggling with. Though concerning this particular film, that's beside the point, at least according to Jerger himself.

The thing is Jerger's film isn't quite based on the events, but more an amalgamation of those involved condensed into one fictional general by the name of, you guessed it, General Massacre in a boring-as-hell fictional story. The film occurs at the court-martial of Massacre with the officer at the stand over an unnamed mass murder intercut with flashbacks to several weeks earlier with his return home to his daughter. We hear all about Massacre's trite warmongering ideology in his own words while witnessing his fractured psyche while playing out war games in the forest near his home. A real cow and ducks are machine gunned to death (this is why it's banned in several countries), the general rides about on horseback, has visions of his now dead wife running around naked, watches violent newsreels from various wars, and dispenses creepy psychobabble to his daughter and a corporal who tagged along with him.

It's obvious your cinematic aspirations have failed when there's three screens of text preambling your film to explain its overall point. From this text, we find out before frame one this is an anti-war film dealing with serial killers finding a path for their demented obsession through the military and war. That's all well-and-good, but I have to take exception with Jerger's direct finger pointing at U.S. forces while not even referring to the My Lai Massacre by name in his feature. General Massacre essentially tries to make the extreme case for all American generals and servicemen being no better than murderers who get kicks out of sexualized violence without acknowledging the many wartime atrocities committed by other countries throughout history. Of course, Nazi Germany is evoked in Massacre's questioning, but only as another device to show how cracked the man's viewpoint is. "The Nazis were inferior simply because they did not win."

Now, this blog has never been about politics, but let me get on my NASCAR-watchin', Bud-guzzlin', Wal Mart-shoppin' American made soapbox for a minute. If Jerger was still alive today, I'd tell him to go blow it out of his ass. It would have been one thing to fashion a literal re-telling of the My Lai Massacre on film, I can't believe Oliver Stone hasn't yet, but synthesizing the event (and probably others) in this way just reeks of seething hatred towards the United States that stretches far beyond Vietnam. I'm sorry, that's not going to pass.

It's like getting "I told you so!" screamed in your face for an hour and a half by an idiot whose hopelessly wrapped up in his own agenda. That's not from anything this grating crap dished out hitting too close to home; it's from "I'm going to snap this fucking tape in half after it's over." I can't claim to be a history major; but what about the actual My Lai Massacre, the Viet Cong's slaughtering of their own people, Mengele's inhuman Jewish experimentation, or General Ishii's Unit 731 which still brings unspeakable shame to Japan? Real acts and men who impacted the 20th Century in incredibly treacherous ways. Deal in that, Mr. Jerger, not some poorly executed made-up clusterfuck diatribe that seems to have been promptly forgotten about by real history. Think of any war film. Got one? It's vastly superior to General Massacre. Think of any unknown '70s cult flick. Got one? It's vastly superior to General Massacre. Jerger's unknown film and book deserve their existing place in history. Shit man, I'm watching Blood Freak now just to awash myself of this garbage.

Wednesday, February 24

Some quick thoughts on Encounter at Raven's Gate (1988)

Eddie (Steven Vidler), just released from prison, is trying to walk the straight-and-narrow working for his brother Richard (Ritchie Singer) and his fiancee Rachel (Celine O'Leary) in the Australian outback. Richard is struggling to run a hydroponics farm while also trying to find sustainable ground water. Eddie is still a bit wild, and while in a chase with the local sheriff on a dirt road, both he and his pursuer's cars suddenly die. Though that's only the beginning of strange occurrences in the area. An unexplained force is sapping powerlines, instantaneously draining water tanks, burning crop circles, and terrifying an elder couple in a homestead by name of the Raven's Gate. After witnessing fledgling infidelity between Eddie and Rachel, Richard tries keep his cool but soon starts blaming the two for his livelihood failing. All this just as Eddie makes his way up to Raven's Gate and discovers water rapidly running across every surface, electricity in the air, and the occupants now petrified beef jerky.

Rolf de Heer's Encounter at Raven's Gate boils down to a bit of lukewarm sci-fi hokum. It's like a strictly decent episode of The X-Files in terms of paced atmosphere protracted to feature-length and without the investigative aspect. I guess Mulder and Scully showed up after the credits. A bit slow in the beginning, but once the mild suspense starts rolling, you hold out for some grander resolution behind all the disturbances. That explaination never really arrives and de Heer doesn't throw on enough strangeness or characterization to make his film worth pondering beyond the screen. The closest I could come was that Eddie's life wasn't what fate had originally planned and the only thing that could right the ship was this extraordinary incident. There's not much reason to believe that theory though. The horror elements are slim besides a few dried corpses, an hallucination involving two of these deadmen hitching a ride on the hood of a police car, and some characters going nuts after witnessing Raven's Gate. You can pass on this one, unless you're a hard-up sci-fi diehard and lover of filmmaking down under.

Still, there some nice scenery (how couldn't there be?), cinematography, and the sense of de Heer utilizing the entire 2.35:1 scope. The problem is Hemdale/HBO Video's VHS is a painful dead center crop to full screen brimming with off-screen talking bodies and half faces. Some of the middle-of-the-road appreciation for Encounter at Raven's Gate would probably be derived from the widescreen vistas. A shame I had to use my imagination. The sound quality also sucks featuring extremely loud highs and many pretty much inaudible passages of dialogue. There is an anamorphic widescreen DVD available from Australia, entitled "Incident at Raven's Gate", but it only appears included in a six film set of the director's work.

Tuesday, February 23

Monday, February 22

Some quick thoughts on The Driller Killer (1979)

Abel Ferrara's infamous debut, The Driller Killer, is a film I've been aware of since around the time I first began dabbling in horror flicks. The catchy title, the grisly photo to your left, and the controversy it has stirred especially overseas have buried it deep into the fabric of '70s horror roughies. I hadn't seen one frame of Driller Killer before last night and only came into ownership of a DVD copy a week ago. After the experience, I imagine if I would have seen this one years back my reaction wouldn't have been nearly as favorable as now. Still, Ferrara accomplished this longevity in spite of the film itself and in reality it's not nearly as vital as Hooper's welding of another implement of body destruction or Craven's systematic dismantling of the hope of two young girls.

To put it bluntly, The Driller Killer is kinda like Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood violently blown out the syphilis-encrusted asshole of a dancer grinding away in a 42nd Street peepshow back in the day. Sorry if you just threw up a little, but that's a way of putting it that agrees with this nasty exercise's vernacular. Even more so than Scorsese's Taxi Driver or Lustig's Maniac, Ferrara presents a Manhattan were simply walking a city block at night will result in at least one instance of a shanking and contact VD. Of course, this was a reality before Rudy's clean sweep, and The Driller Killer feels like there was no escape for its actors and crew either on or off the camera. After watching this, you'll see every potential fleck of dirt in your surroundings and feel every blemish on your skin.

This seedy lived-in atmosphere is the film's strongest point to such a degree the exploits of the driller killer, played by Ferrara himself, seem like a formality. This is probably the reason many loathe The Driller Killer because it's like two distinctive features sandwiched together. At one turn, it's a grisly horror flick, and at another, a time capsule of a lost youth bohemian punk lifestyle. The bite is that Ferrara does justice to the latter by a wide margin. The director should have ditched the idea of a horror movie all together and made a fly-on-the-wall documentary detailing the punk scene, New York City's once-famed debauchery, or both. This aspect is so convincing that I thought the film's band, "Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters", was some little known post-punk phenomenon and not just a group of actors.

It's good to know all this if initially walking in because one will probably be disappointed with an expectation of straight horror exploitation. Sure, the power drill killings are brutal; however, The Driller Killer isn't very effective as a genre offering otherwise. The murderous rampage of Ferrara's character, Reno, seems a foregone conclusion and not aimed at those we expect to meet the terror of the bloody chuck. Instead of taking Sex Machine's advice to kill that fucking band, the artistic maniac is more interested in slaughtering the homeless, despite giving the audience false expectation (hope?) in a scene of Reno aggressively complaining to his landlord over the incessantly loud punk. The film's only meaty "meta" portion occurs in the beginning; Reno runs screaming out of a empty church hall after recognizing his presumably estranged father with a Sister saying "Wait, he had you name and number." Ferrara went on to delve into more controversial religious themes with a confident hand in Ms. 45 and Harvey Keitel's stretch armstrong in Bad Lieutenant.

It's hard to recommend The Driller Killer to anyone because it doesn't conform to a specific subset of horror fans. It's safe to assume that Ferrara staked out the genre as a cheap and splashy way to get his name out there. Not necessarily a bad thing, but the film hands the load off to the viewer to produce the glue that holds together the music, mania, and mechanically buzzing death. Play this film loud and judge for yourself.

On a final note, Ferrara himself doesn't seem too keen on providing answers judging by the hilarious audio commentary on Cult Epics's DVD. The murmuring director rambles "WOAH", "watch out now", and "check this out" two thousand times while ogling the sexual wears of his actresses while in a medicated stupor. "It's like I've seen this movie every night while in another dimension." This one revivals the gutbusting stupidity displayed by Schwarzenegger during his commentary with John Milius on the Conan the Barbarian DVD.

Saturday, February 20

At the Edge of the Abyss: Demons 6: De Profundis (1989)

A director (Urbano Barberini) and his actress wife (Florence Guérin) are intent on continuing the film legacy of Dario Argento's Three Mothers Trilogy by preemptively making the third sequel based on the Mother of Tears. The actress is disquieted by the proposal of playing the role of the Levana witch and soon begins having intense hallucinations. As the ball on the production starts rolling faster, the actress's baby comes into danger, as a hard-nosed producer (Brett Halsey) signs on and another actress (Caroline Munro) shows nefarious interest in taking the role. Then we have something about the moon or some paper mache planet coming within two feet of Earth and a fetus in utero in hackneyed allusions to Kubrick's 2001.

As this entry's title says, this is one of the end times flicks for genre product from Italy for most of the lesser talents. Much like the waxing days of '80s metal, the first few years of the '90s was the cut off point for the old guard to sadly hang it up. Luigi Cozzi's Demons 6: De Profundis (Ill gato nero / Demons 6: Armageddon) is one of the less embarrassing of these bottom of the barrel death knells from the once great boot country horror gristmill.

Playing on a bit of fan service, this sequel in name only has the nice feeling of being one strictly for followers of the subgenre. Cozzi doesn't rip off Argento's Suspiria or Inferno, but instead uses the potential for a third feature (finally poorly realized by Argento in 2007) as a springboard to spice up this cheap, simplistic quickie. Even going as far as to have bit of Goblin's Suspiria theme sound every time Dario's film is referred to. Edgar Allen Poe's The Black Cat is also evoked in the story, but all that amounts to is a black cat lingering about with no point.

The cast is slumming it with performances that barely pass serviceable. French actress Florence Guérin is really just vaguely Winona Ryder-esqe cardboard as the lead. Urbano Barberini should be recognizable from his turn as the blond hero George in Bava's original Demons. Brett Halsey was thoroughly in the process of having his will broken by Fulci and Mattei in films like Touch of Death, Demonia, and Cop Game. Caroline Munro basically mugs her way through while displaying her well sun-baked crow's feet and busty figure. The real star is director Cozzi, who gets surprisingly good coverage and keeps that late era Italian horror vibe alive, despite having a budget equal to a three foot by three foot square of a Hollywood craft service table.

The problem is Cozzi's many varying angles reveal one of Demon 6's biggest flaws. The shot-to-shot editing is so sloppy; it wouldn't be surprising to learn the film was cut on rusty, broken equipment by vagrants in a damp alley behind Cinecittà. Every splice, which happens often, is accompanied by an explosion of obvious print damage, bad tears, and sprocket jittering. It's the "dirtiest" looking Italian horror film I've ever seen and if this reflects the condition of the negative; an extensive restoration would have to be done to fix every instance. Like that will ever happen...

The splatter will leave you wanting; despite a showstopping body explosion, a gut spewin' TV (how original!), and close-up throat slash. And yea, the supposedly doom-bringing Mother of Tears does look like a meatball rolled in shit wearing a Party City witch gown. The inevitable good vs. evil showdown is unfortunately more of a goofy laserlight show than a crimson cage match. The soundtrack tries to conjure memories of Bava's first two Demons entries with some generic hair metal. One of the Levana attacks even blatantly rips off Golden Earring's Radar Love and another track over Munro bathing mimics Guns and Roses's Patience complete with a little faux Axl whining.

If you have more than a passing interest in Italian horror, give Demons 6: De Profundis a whirl if presented with the chance. It's not essential, but it's always cool to track another one of these bloody Italian candy bars down no matter how stale. Midnight Video's DVD-R is solid being sourced from a full frame Japanese VHS. The composition never seems cramped, so 1.33:1 is probably correct. The audio is in clear English, and one wonders why Part 5 never got a dub. The Japanese Demons 5: The Devil's Veil VHS is Italian-only. Trailers for Sergio Stivaletti's The Wask Mask and Argento's Trauma are included.

Guess what I just saw in an episode of Seinfeld...

So I pass by the TV and that one episode of Seinfeld is on where Jerry is stuck with a car that reeks of BO--1993's "The Smelly Car" to be exact. Early on the gang is a video store and George awkwardly runs into his ex-girlfriend-turned-lesbian Susan with her new girlfriend. The couple is standing in front of racks of "face-out" clamshell VHS as George is sweating and of course I'm scoping out all the tapes at a distance of two feet away from the screen. Susan's girlfriend walks out of frame to the left and guess what tape I see in the center of the screen right by the elbow of Susan. Out of the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, my little eye spies by the clarity of TBS-HD, the most coveted tape ever released by Unicorn Video and one of most sought after of all American tapes. It only appears for a couple seconds, but I have it dead to rights in all its clamshell glory.

Aenigma Italian DVD Spotcheck: It's Not Anamorphic...

Despite being listed as such by several sources, most notably DVDCompare (see listing here), the Italian Minerva Pictures/UniVideo "HorrorClub" DVD of Lucio Fulci's Aenigma does not feature an anamorphic transfer. DVDCompare notes a stripped down "DeAgostini" release without an anamorphic transfer and in only Italian audio. The release I recently picked up definitely has Italian, English, and French tracks along with a Fulci bio, trailer, and gallery. Although it's definitely not a 16x9 transfer, just 1.85:1 widescreen, after popping the disc with my DVD-ROM and standalone player. The specs on the back cover are slightly confusing stating "Letterboxed: 16:9"--which is a contradiction. The term "letterbox"usually refers to a DVD being non-anamorphic. Maybe that's confusing people into believing this release is enhanced for widescreen displays.

I know it may not seem like a big deal, it isn't, but I tend to find errors like this on DVD review sites quite irritating. If you're a collector searching for the best home video version, you'll likely be looking for this disc, much like I. The disc was only ten bucks for me, but one might pay much more only to be royally disappointed with the lack of a widescreen display-friendly presentation. At least the film is uncut on this Minerva Pictures release unlike the domestic out-of-print and also non-anamorphic Image Entertainment "EuroShock" release which is missing several minutes. If one is searching for an English-friendly anamorphic transfer, it appears Raro Video in Italy now have one along with Néo Publishing in France. Just be weary of this particular release for that purpose, but the picture quality isn't bad anyway. Here's several screenshots exhibiting the lack of anamorphic enhancement, if it was, the matte bars would be missing:

Friday, February 19

More French WTF: Devil Story (Il était une fois...le diable) (1985)

A perpetually grunting man-freak-beast dressed in Nazi-garb semi-terrorizes the French countryside. Meanwhile, a vacationing couple take shelter in an ominous, gothic chateau for the night. The elderly keepers of the grand castle (this place) tell a tale of a galleon running aground from five pillagers setting a huge bonfire on a nearby beach to lure the ship in. This prompts the old drunkard owner to take a shotgun with unlimited ammo out to murder a wild black stallion for ten continuous hours. The ghostly galleon then erupts from a cake doubling as a mountainside as its contents of barrels and an Egyptian casket spill forth. A mummy emerges with a thunder clap (not kidding) and the young vacationing woman ends up in the middle of it all in a fight for survival after leaving the safety of the medieval fortress.

That sounds freaking awesome as all hell, right? Well, Bernard Launois's baffling Devil Story (Il était une fois...le diable / Once Upon a Time...The Devil) can best be summed up as a puffy and pointless French arthouse snoozer...only featuring copious yet completely left field horror elements. That might be an insult to arthouse selections, since this is very crudely made, but it's like the dawn of sound in cinema compared to Ogroff. Still, I'd peg Moutier's shoebox cheap feature as the superior of the two because it feels made by a horror fan despite its many failings. Devil Story, Launois's only horror flick and last career film, is best mildly enjoyed for certain individual aspects and not its amazingly incoherent, rice cake hollow whole.

The Nazi man-freak-beast with no name is the main attraction here. He looks as if Troma was commissioned to create the Pillsbury Doughboy's moldy great-grandfather complete with an SS officer's jacket, knife, shotty, and spiked glove. Grunting and groaning through the woods; he's a bit of a bitch to his gypsy mother's shouting. In one hilarious and astonishingly sloppily edited sequence, he's seen trying to take on a wildly bucking black horse whilst getting kicked in the teeth for his efforts. After coughing up a jumbo-size Slurpee cup of blood and scream-groaning for several minutes, he's back to it and is swiftly kicked in the head. He rises up with large chunk of bloody flesh dangling from his forehead for the remainder of his time on-screen. This is pretty much the creature's finest hour. There's a hint of hunchback sympathy to his pathetic mouth noises, but the landslide of stupidity to Devil Story negates all of that.

Then we have the old guy in camo aimlessly trying to shoot the annoyingly loud black horse (shut the fuck up, you mass of prancing McDonald's burgers), which he believes is the source of this evil, literally all night and day in the same field without reloading and said equine mere feet away. He eventually succeeds only to meet his end at the feet of the mummy stumbling around with a big-haired wench summoned from the grave. Yes, there's really an old style, cheapjack Karloff mummy within the confines of this mess. Not to mention a black cat, slo-mo, body burns, panties, coffin moving, a synth piano score, a repeated ad nauseum stock thunder clap sound effect familiar to Coast to Coast AM listeners, and rough stock footage. It all sounds so damn right, yet it's quite disappointing in total. At least there's some surprisingly pleasant displays of blood and an existence of only seventy-two minutes. It's sadly more enjoyable to look at stills and write about this somewhat-thankful French obscurity.

Midnight Video's DVD-R is sourced from a pan-and-scan full screen Greek VHS. Unfortunate, you can readily see the picture cropping from 1.85:1 widescreen, but it is dubbed in English with small Greek subtitles. The last reel has super blown out contrast; however, this might be inherent to the film source or a flaw with the VHS's video master. The only other releases are tapes from France (on Ogroff's "American Video" label), Japan (Pack-In-Video), and a mysterious English-dubbed tape that might be Canadian or some kind of French NTSC import.

Thursday, February 18

Phantasm II DVD Comparison: U.S. vs. U.K. vs. Austria

I threw in Universal's recent DVD of Phantasm II last night and figured I'd put together a quick picture quality comparison between these three releases. First off, Universal's U.S. presentation is perfectly acceptable after such a long wait for its stateside DVD release. The transfer is anamorphic, progressively encoded, and has a healthy bitrate. Detail is consistently strong, but Coscarelli shot slightly diffuse, so it's not usually tack sharp. The contrast is brighter and color cast is much different (reddish leaning) from Anchor Bay's U.K. presentation. The British disc is more muted looking. The U.S. disc's shadow detail is crushed by comparison, so the darker portions of the picture are inky and have a quick roll-off in absolute black. While this isn't the most desirable thing; I'd rather have deep blacks than shallow, grey blacks. It's just a shame the Universal disc has no extras aside from the film's theatrical trailer. As an aside, the spine's design is nicely similar to Anchor Bay's U.S. discs of Parts 1, 3, and 4.

I've had the British Anchor Bay box set for awhile and the Phantasm II transfer is the strongest out of the four-film set. As stated, the picture is more desaturated, but at the same time more consistent. Detail is just as strong as the U.S. presentation, if not a little better. Shadow detail is also noticeably better and the transfer is anamorphic and progressive. Be careful of Anchor Bay's individual release; their "Horror Classics" line of re-releases lack all of the extras of the studio's prior SE discs, including Phantasm II. The overall extra features of this box set are great with this film featuring a commentary by Coscarelli, Scrimm, and Bannister. As another aside, the initial British Moonstone DVD release is from an old crappy video master and their Part 3 disc is edited--ignore them.

The Austrian XT Video box set is a shady unauthorized release limited to 2,000 copies. It's not really worth even speaking of the picture quality, as it's terrible. The source looks like a Laserdisc shoehorned into an anamorphic DVD presentation. Hazy, digital-looking, undetailed, and just bad. Here's a capture that matches the third set below since the real competition is between the U.S. and U.K. presentations. Though the ace up this set's sleeve is its supplemental material. Concerning Phantasm II, this set has a two-hour making-of documentary, an hour of footage from the Phantasmania Convention, a half an hour from a Fangoria Convention, and extremely rough looking workprint version with 11 more minutes not seen in the theatrical cut (see capture here)--all in English.

The British Anchor Bay set is preferable for the best transfer and extras, but the U.S. Universal transfer is just a sliver below the Anchor Bay for those unfortunately region landlocked. If you can find it, the Austrian XT Video set is for diehard fans for its unique extras. Of course, if you're a Phantasm fanatic, only all three releases will do.

TOP: Universal Studios - R1/NTSC/U.S. | BOTTOM: Anchor Bay - R2/PAL/U.K.

Wednesday, February 17

OGROFF - The Midnight Video DVD-R

This one along with two other "mystery" DVD-Rs arrived today from Midnight Video. The video quality is still rough, but lacks the heavy digital compression of the video file over at MegaUpload. The 625x480 interlaced image does look a little processed, but Midnight might have transferred the SECAM tape to NTSC standard using a digital method. Here's some untouched captures (click for full size) from the disc, I'm saving the other two phantom flicks for this weekend, so stay tuned! In case you haven't checked out my recent entries about Ogroff, take a gander at The Possible Origin, Glory, and Gift of OGROFF, THE MAD MUTILATOR (1983) and Ogroff Follow-up: The VHS Editions & Other Crap.

Tuesday, February 16

Belated Swap Meet Finds: Das Return!

For the first time in a while, I managed to snag some tapes this past weekend. A fellow veteran of the horror VHS wars came down to the swap meet and I ripped some goodies away from the swarming "buy-to-sell off" vultures. He's really into horror mags as well and keeps showing me the awesomeness of HorrorHound. I really should get a subscription, despite Fangoria sadly floundering currently.

The first picture is Anchor Bay's Evil Dead 2 Limited Tin, which I already have, but it's in great condition and sports the excellent looking THX transfer of the film (see here and here). Wizard Video's fanastic big box of Trauma sits next to it. Trauma (Enigma rosso) is actually a 1978 Alberto Negrin-directed giallo starring Fabio Testi. I have another copy of this Wizard tape, but the box was butchered to fit into a small plastic case.

The second picture starts out with the Simitar Video edition of Daniel Boyd's Chillers from 1987. I'm unsure about this tape, but I've heard the Raedon Video VHS is uncut while the Troma VHS/DVD releases are cut. Still trying to find concrete information on this though. I hear Movie House Massacre (Blood Theatre) (1984) isn't terribly good, but that cover is an eye-catcher. I believe it was released with the same art in big box before this cheap "Star Classics" edition. It's hard to believe Gate II is sitting dusty in a Sony-owned vault since the tape below was distributed by Columbia Tri-Star.

Then we have New Horizon's Demon Keeper, again horrid, but in great shape. I've been pining to see John McNaughton's The Borrower and Rolf de Heer of Bad Boy Bubby-fame's Encounter at Raven's Gate, so these were cool finds which I'll pop in soon. I picked up Roller Blade merely because of this goofy title screen intro uploaded by Mr. TangerineMan of The Scandy Factory.

The last two are a bootlegs of Tim Ritter's Killing Spree and Lucio Fulci's A Cat in the Brain. My DVD copy of Killing Spree from the cheapo Eden Entertainment simply doesn't work in any player I have. I really enjoyed Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness, so I'm looking forward to checking this one out. The Fulci boot is an odd one. The cover appears to be a scan of an Italian VHS release from "Dischi Ricordi" with a quote from Jean-Luc Godard(!?!) on the front. This was one of those weird occurrences where you find a tape in which the seller and other items for sale don't match. An old guy with all these blacksmith tools had the tape (and this tape only) sitting atop old Popular Mechanics issues just under a table. The situation was so weird, I asked him if it was even for sale first instead of how much. The transfer turned out to be ripped from the Box Office Spectacular/Grindhouse Releasing Laserdisc release. Hopefully I can uncover some more this coming weekend!

Monday, February 15

Some quick thoughts on Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009)

The flesh eating terror has run by river into a supply line for a bottled water facility with the company unwittingly shipping the toxic tonic to a local high school (this portion is told in an animated opening credits sequence). Meanwhile, the senior class is gearing up for prom and graduation, as we follow a young man's trials with girls and life (for a good bit of the runtime, who cares?). But when the night finally arrives, the punch is spiked...

Spoilers throughout review / Not to sound like I have a personal vendetta against Ti West after being so wishy-washy over House of the Devil, but Cabin Fever 2 pretty much sucks...hard. This sequel exists in an entirely different dimension and it's obvious after watching that this was a director-for-hire quickie for West; while House of the Devil was his baby. One of the ultimate sins is committed here being a horror flick you watch expecting all bloody hell to break loose, but that never really happens. The experience is annoyingly uneventful, uninspired, and so familiar you can call every turn in your sleep. It's most recent and similar brother is Gregg Bishop's fun, prom-night-zombie-invasion indie Dance of the Dead. If you haven't seen Bishop's film, check it out instead as it does everything much better, funnier, and with a true sense of personal investment by those involved...with actual zombies!

If you hated Eli Roth's Cabin Fever, this will make you pick it back up and reevaluate your stance. Despite the goofs and gross-outs, Roth's 2002 debut created an identifiable and palpable fear of infection, while Part Deux inevitably has a bunch of kids quickly vomiting blood and dying. You're left yearning for the dead to start twitching and rise with a ravenous hunger for flesh. It doesn't help that dangerous situations with the uninfected encountering the sick are few. Instead, a completely unexplained armed strikeforce rolls in, kills a few residents, and locks the school down with everyone still inside. Most of the students perish within minutes in a sealed, cheap looking auditorium so there's no wild schoolhouse crawling with infection scenario.

There's also an out-of-place grudge between the lead young guy and another guy trying to steal his girl. Okay, that's not so foreign, but the bully turning into a psycho with a hammer recalls shades of the off-putting conclusion of The Zombie Diaries. None of this really matters because you don't care about any of the people on-screen. The lead guy is captured by the commandos as he and his girl escape the building. The girl then hitches a ride with Deputy Wilson (Giuseppe Andrews) from the first film and Mark Borchardt of American Movie. We're then treated to a throwaway sequence of the high school's slut stripping at a club "revealing" her infection and another animated montage of the infection spreading further. FIN. Then, after finishing my tall glass of Shasta Tiki Punch, I exclaimed "That was it?"

Giuseppe Andrews reprises his role, which is nice even if it doesn't lead to anything, but his decision to pick-up the frantic blood-caked chick is nonsensical since he's aware of the infection. An unrecognizable Rider Strong is also there in the beginning to connect to Cabin Fever's ending and meets a quick end in an homage to Robocop. Larry Fessenden and Judah Friedlander show up to die as well. On the gore front, the splatter ranges from weak to decent, but it's lacking and opts for dumb gross-outs like vomit and pus-spillin' dicks. I can't understand these "unrated" direct-to-video features nowadays. When saddled with a trite story, why not truck in seven 55-gallon barrels of gore? It's unrated, with no chance of a theatrical run, and mostly for horror fans expecting wall-to-ceiling splat--so show us something, dammit! No balls I tell ya, West's film ain't got shit on the likes of Street Trash and Slime City. There's two more recommendations to check out instead.

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever isn't unwatchable, just the kind of one-and-done, "meh" rental evening that's all been done better elsewhere. Sitting down with it cradled in your DVD player will do nothing for your horror well-being aside from wasting your time. This valuable time is better spent visiting the other flicks I mentioned above, especially the actually satifying Dance of the Dead, or digging out Roth's original. The swap meet bud who gave this DVD-R to me (thanks again!) said West seemed to be trying to overcompensate, but I'd argue he didn't deliver enough of what's called for. This should have been happily way over the top regardless of the thoroughly beaten dead horse premise. In the end, Cabin Fever 2 feels like a pointless trip to a third sequel, much like Beyond Re-Animator.

Sunday, February 14

Is it just me or...?

Has The Exorcist's status diminished over the past few years?

Now, before a chorus of "what the fuck, dude?" erupts, I'm not referring to the quality of this great and highly influential milestone. Friedkin's film is to the Horror genre what Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now is to the dramatic depiction of war on film. Both are Hollywood watersheds with the sprawling stories of their creation and postscript being just as interesting as the resulting images on-screen. One could devote their passion to becoming scholars of just these two features and still continually discover new aspects within their worlds.

The Exorcist, aside from perhaps 20th Century Fox's The Omen, was one of the last times an old studio power threw their weight full bore into pursuing something of immense quality and controversy that unquestionably resides in the Horror genre. For that alone, it's an effort that's special, instead of the long standing trend of major studios buckling under lobbyist or rating board pressures, cheaping out on the genre, or striking distribution deals for films outside the Hollywood superpower fold in the hopes of hitting upon a phenomenon. Warner and Friedkin made an event film that doesn't rely on trite gimmicks that only wants to scare the hell out its audience--even if at the same time the audience is screaming sacrilege at the screen.

Though I can't help but feel The Exorcist has sorta fallen at least halfway to the wayside since its shove back into the spotlight a decade ago with the dubious Version You've Never Seen. That and the big brouhaha over the mess of the fourth mediocre sequel/prequel. The film might have suffered the Star Wars effect only on a vastly smaller scale. I'm not the biggest fan of that sci-fi franchise; however, the whole Lucas universe seems markedly "less" due to the the post-Phantom Menace explosion of merchandising, re-cuts, prequels, animated numbers, graphic novels, video games, baby clothes, and bobbleheads that we're all still enduring.

In some way, before their rebirths, The Exorcist and Star Wars were retiring in comfort under the care of their respective fanbases and genre communities. Afterward, it was like they had been taken away from loved ones and propped up for the entire world to see for profit. A bit of the closeness was rubbed away with everyone having an opinion and a Yoda LEGO figure taped to their monitor in their cubicle.

I'm going to say something that might put me on the shit list, but I don't think it's a stretch to believe that a sizable portion of horror fans actually feel resentment towards The Exorcist over its trip back into the mainstream's conscious. They like to belabor the fact the film is often cited as "the scariest movie of all time" and ride upon their high horse with a sneer when someone "outside the loop" says that. I'm not saying it's the scariest, that's subjective, but they're just cutting their noses off. We should be nothing but proud that such an example is held as the most popular high watermark to this day; even if your co-worker believes that despite missing two weeks of work after developing a hernia from the hilarity of Meet the Spartans.

With time, The Exorcist will hopefully be fully reclaimed after this quiet probation. Warner and Friedkin are again working on a fresh restoration of the original cut and are said to be planning a Halloween '10 Blu-ray debut of both versions. Watching the original cut on Warner's 25th Anniversary DVD last night, the film definitely needs it, as the picture quality is quite dated. So there's hope, so long as Warner doesn't decide to throw The Version You've Never Seen back into theaters for it's tenth IMAX 3-D...

Saturday, February 13

Some quick thoughts on Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Jessica, her husband, and a friend look to start anew in a quiet Connecticut countryside homestead after her release from a psychiatric hospital. The old locals aren't the most welcoming and the out-of-towners find a new acquaintance in a fair-skinned woman who just seemed to come with the place. Jessica, still in a frail mental condition, deeply desires to find normalcy in her refreshed life with her hubby. But she starts seeing and hearing things again centering around the young woman who also appears to be trying to seduce her husband...

Spoilers throughout review /First off, it's usually harder to articulate one's feelings for films like Let's Scare Jessica to Death. It's fun (and cathartic) to create goofy sentences for equally goofy B-Side programmers or tear down the terribly rendered dreams of others, but psychologically dense films such as this are tough to translate into words. I guess what I'm saying is that it's better for one to either put it in their Netflix queue or place an order with Amazon than to read the ramblings of reviewers who'll end up waxing about a complex experience that's unique to that individual. That doesn't mean I'm not going to ramble anyway.

Let's Scare Jessica to Death is a horror thoroughbred, with mood so thick picturesque scenery becomes terrifying, that sadly slipped into obscurity for decades until interest was renewed by a much needed DVD release several news ago. What breaks director John D. Hancock's film from its fellow methodical horror pack is a superbly intense sense of ambiguity. It's a story not content with merely existing on one track, something that disappointed in House of the Devil. It might be a tale of outsiders coming upon a vampiric tourist trap with a mysterious blood slurping seductress toying with the meek Jessica. It might all be an elaborate, cruel hoax designed to convince Jessica of her illness once-and-for-all so her husband can rid himself of the burden. Or after a certain point, the events might possibly be constructs of Jessica's fractured psyche as she convinces herself that something is horribly wrong--even if it isn't. Lesser works would have a hard time juggling one of these lines, but Hancock and writer Lee Kalcheim craft with purpose and constantly give the viewer enough ammunition to seriously consider all of these possibilities.

It's a film anchored on an unreliable communicator, Jessica, and Zohra Lampert's performance is deserving to be among the best in Horror. If the film had a flaw, it would be that Lampert's co-stars don't shine nearly as bright. It's an extremely believable portrayal of a woman wanting to get better, and she probably really is, but the either intentional or unintentional events demand her to question her own mental stability. The voices in her head might be worsening psychosis or something more otherworldly capitalizing on her weakened state. Jessica ultimately can no longer decide, as the beginning and ending monologues refer to, and the true horror of Let's Scare Jessica to Death is the shattering turning point in which a person can no longer trust their perception of reality. This is perhaps the root of everything that frightens us--condensed into a idyllic New England setting and one amazing work of Horror.
. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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