Tuesday, November 30

Underworld (Transmutations) (1985) - Tohokushinsha Home Video Japan VHS

An ex-boyfriend of a kidnapped girl is strong-armed into finding her whereabouts under the city streets in a labyrinth controlled by drug-addicted mutants. After giving this seemingly universally damned effort the benefit of the doubt, George Pavlou's Underworld (U.S. title: Transmutations) is another '80s genre mash-up that's just plain uneventful over being unwatchable. Clive Barker was the brainchild of the story and wrote his first screenplay for the feature, but large chunks were either tossed or rewritten removing any potential the end result had. Horribly dated and "fast-forward" predictable with no self-identity or gore. The mutant "make-up" looks a half-step above busting open a Pillsbury canister and sticking lumps of dough on your face. As the credits rolled, I envisioned a world of horror and fantasy without Barker and concluded this film would probably still exist...and still blow.     

Underworld and Rawhead Rex prompted Barker to handle Hellraiser's screen translation himself and his 1987 classic only makes those two even more antiqued in comparison. At least the latter, also helmed by Pavlou, had a huge maniacal jawbeast gleefully ripping victims asunder. Visit Clive Barker Revelations for an insightful look at this debacle and Barker's unused "Pinhead" ending for the film. This fan-made trailer recaps Underworld so you don't have to waste the time. All three links are much more interesting than Pavlou's mishandled mess. Also the film runs 87 minutes; not 103 minutes like many resources mistakenly indicate.

Monday, November 29

Zombie: Le crépuscule des morts-vivants (Dawn of the Dead) (Argento Cut) (1978) - 1980 René Château French VHS

Given this tape is thirty years old, this is probably the debut French home video of Dawn... 

Sunday, November 28

Some quick thoughts on The Expendables (2010)

Sad to say this, but for all its heft and hype The Expendables is tantamount to a Hot Topic poser when it comes to the genre it desperately wants to carry the battle flag for. In recent weeks, I've been mulling around the reasons for my love of trashier action, and after seeing Stallone's latest, applying the usual "mindless" definition to these efforts would be a mistake. Instead of deeming the "guy flick" as dim-witted, they should be viewed as models of cinematic efficiency. The best examples, albeit not what the snobbish would hail "high art", are tenacious little fuckers of staying power. Blissfully non self-referential entertainment that eventually can be found airing every weekend on some channel without fail.

During the few bloated explosion excuses in Expendables, my mind kept drifting back to a little scene in Sly's fourth return to his most famous character besides Balboa. Remember when Rambo had to hightail it through the jungle, plant a charge near an undetonated explosive in aircraft wreckage, and then tear out like no other sixty-two-year-old ever before a group of nondescript little brown soldiers became millisecond fire? Or what about Arnold suiting up beachside to slaughter a small army in Commando, Sly cauterizing a bad wound in Rambo III, or Bruce picking shards of agony from his bare feet in Die Hard? Simple slices of macho hubris more exhilarating than anything witnessed in the huge personality pile-up of Expendables. The only real showstopping setpiece is a fantastic seaplane firebombing of a long pier. The slapdash frenzy that infests the rest of the confusing action deflates much of the visceral impact.

That's the biggest problem with this supposed throwback to the glory days of Regan actioners. The summation feels more like a excuse to get these rugged physiognomies together on one marquee than a well developed action concept. Every actor on the cover gets their own specialized screen time or monologue. Rourke breaks up over a girl he couldn't save, Statham breaks the face of an ex's abusive lover, Couture talks about his fucked up ear, Li's skill in English has gotten worse, and Schwarzenegger looks barely able walk anymore in his four minutes. Crews is fun with his hotshit Armsel Protecta shotgun and Lundgren is underused (and underdeveloped) as the addict badboy of the team.

Whether this cast, regardless the project, was a good idea is debatable. Rourke, Austin, Couture, Li, and Schwarzenegger are easily "expendable" and should have never been approached. In their place, define a clear role for Van Damme, he would have been worth it, and expand Willis's turn. Maybe drop the vanilla Eric Roberts and let Bruce embody the villain. Unfortunately that's a pipe dream and in its current state The Expendables bogs down into a few obvious "acting" moments with some slopped together action segments peppered in. And yes, Al-Qaeda should have been the bad guys, not some vague South American faction, since '80s action gave a giant fuck off to topical political correctness. 

It's a shame Stallone hasn't done more behind the camera through his career. When he's not orchestrating action scenes like a post-stroke Paul Greengrass with the shakes, the ol' plastic-faced lug definitely has an eye and pulls off great use of dark cinematography. At times, this aspect was actually more interesting than whatever was happening on-screen. The film also never feels its 103 minute runtime and seemed to breeze by. In the end, I still hold hope for a sequel or a really fleshed out extended cut. The Expendables isn't so much a throwback as it is a bullet someone forgot to pack with gunpowder as they rushed it through the loading press. As for Lionsgate's Blu-ray, the video and audio quality are superlative.

Saturday, November 27

One of the most egregious VHS misrepresentations ever...

We all know that pre-stardom work has a way of worming its way back onto shelves after its star, or sometimes supporting actor, strikes it big in Tinseltown. Usually an unrelated giant promotional 8x10 shot of the mega-luminary takes up the cover. Perhaps a new, more appealing title is slapped on the front to boot. The entire box art might even be "re-purposed" to suit the new faceshot and title.

Well, "Magnum Video" took all three updates and cranked until the knob snapped off for this example. "Short Wave" is actually the Nicole Kidman's fourth career hire in her native Australia back in 1983. BMX Bandits is the real title and the film, directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith (Escape 2000, Dead-End Drive In, Night of the Demons 2), was mostly an excuse to capitalize on the totally rad and neon-splashed fad of manual motocross of the day--not Die Hard with walkie-talkies. Too ridiculous not to share!

Thursday, November 25

Rats: Night of Terror (Rats - Notte di terrore) (1984) - TDK SUPER VIDEO Japan VHS

Imagine a band of leather-clad marauders from Giuliano Carnimeo's Exterminators of the Year 3000 taking a break from...err...marauding to take refuge in a bombed out and abandoned city. Upon discovering mauled corpses and "high tech" blinking light panels in their chosen building, they decide to stay for the night only to be overran by increasing hordes of rodents. With Italy's post apocalyptic answers to Miller's The Road Warrior still churning, it's commendable that Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso totally diverged from that usual with Rats.

Maybe out of a lack of funds for action sequences, the infamous pair craft something vaguely akin to Night of the Living Dead within the sub-subgenre's "after the fall" template. There's also a lack of the obvious, wholesale Hollywood rip-off scheme ol' Bruno specialized in. Actually, the only aspect that recalls a mainstream hit is how hairy lead Ottaviano Dell'Acqua looks like Kurt Russell in The Thing when wielding a flamethrower.

Despite being Mattei's most legitimate stab at legitimacy, it's a shame Rats never has an ignition point into anything interesting. The direction isn't completely inept, just boring, giving the "toss rodents at actor" attacks zero zip or intensity. After the group's arrival during the opening credits, Rats flatlines far too quickly as the titular trash creatures begin to pick off the humans in rather unsatisfying fashion. TDK's "Super Video" Japanese cardboard slipboxes are rare, but this particular (otherwise uncut) presentation has some optical fogging to genitalia in the Lucifer/Lilith "sex" scene. I guess a fuzzy glimpse of a hotdog and an upside down triangle of pube is far worse than a couple of mice running around on fire...

Wednesday, November 24

The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TCM: The Next Generation) (1994) - The Panned Review Bootleg VHS

I actually dared to watch this abomination again last night and my prior assessment stands. Although I couldn't resist picking up this bootleg of Columbia Tri-Star's VHS months ago upon reading the appropriately snide review on the back. Did the bootlegger even read what he threw onto the cover?

Tuesday, November 23

R.I.P. Ingrid Pitt (1937-2010)

Unfortunately, this old entry has spiked in hits today for a very sad occasion. R.I.P. Blood Queen....

Monday, November 22

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) - Strange Australian(?) Bootleg VHS

Here's an oddity fittingly bought off the tailgate of a beat-up pick-up over the weekend. It's Tobe Hooper's classic, my favorite horror film after Dawn, on a curious boot in a hard plastic case (think Thorn EMI's releases). What makes this unlicensed release odd is the use of the Australian R18+ classification. At first, I figured it was just some bootlegger slapping on a rating for added "official-looking" effect; yet no, the tape is actually recorded in the country's PAL video standard (notice the shortened PAL runtime). R18+ is the correct rating as confirmed by Refused Classification. The cover itself is also printed on high quality "stiffer" stock and done very cleanly with none of the usual grammatical gaffes.

The tip-off is the cassette looking and feeling like a modern cheap blank. The only sticker, along its spine, has the title typed out in that tacky "Creepy" word processor font. Not to mention no note of a distributor anywhere. The second scan is the authorized New Castle/MPI VHS from 1992 in a regular cardboard slipcover. Besides the art similarities, notice how the bootleg abbreviates the tagline and synopsis of the real release. Just a weird-ass bootleg, especially considering Texas Chain Saw has been readily available in both countries for years now.

Sunday, November 21

Prison (1988) - Some Caps from Optimum's British DVD

Here's a few 1024x576 screen captures (click for full size) from Optimum's R2/PAL disc of Renny Harlin's Prison which can be ordered on Amazon.uk for about $13 shipped to the States if you're region free. This film is still MIA in North America besides the initial VHS from New World Pictures with the German and Italian DVDs released before this one being of shit quality. The uncut British presentation, with MGM fanfare at start, is an example of a solid source crippled by budget DVD treatment.

The 1:85.1 anamorphic/progressive transfer shows signs of healthy grain structure, but a low bitrate on a single layer disc more-or-less destroys the benefit of its presence. For the most part, finer detail just "blocks" away as the bargain encoding fails to retain it. Still, the disc looks much better than previous video incarnations. The German disc looked ripped from a poor Laserdisc while the Italian looked worse than a tape. The only other issue about the Optimum, aside from the theatrical trailer as its sole extra, is how the framing seems too tight on the top border (as seen in the third cap below). I'm unclear if the transfer is actually "wrong", only shows up at times, or just a case of sloppy inherent composition. The exact runtime is 1:38:48 (considering 3% PAL speed-up). 

Saturday, November 20

RCA VK 250 Video Cassette (Late '70s)

Say hello to the first T-120 blank cassette made available when RCA introduced the first North American VHS VCR, the VBT200, in 1977. The Japanese-made cassette's serial number is KTD8056-25 and has "RT" burned into the plastic above the record tab. My VDT600 has found an old friend...

Friday, November 19

The Rift (Endless Descent) (1989) - Shochiku Home Video Japan VHS

In the nearly single year boom of deep sea monster flicks spurred by Cameron's The Abyss, Juan Piquer Simón's The Rift is the last place also ran of the bunch. The director behind the wonderfully grisly slasher, Pieces (1982), points-and-shoots his way through this potboiler with no flare either behind or in front of the bolted down camera. A high tech deep sea submarine is lost and its designer (Jack Scalia) is called upon to find its black box on a retrieval mission. Inevitably, the whole thing is a set-up and suddenly the group is menaced by a giant algae monster that sometimes looks like a fried egg white. A superior Ray Wise is regulated to second fiddle with a stallion-haired Scalia delivering the usual stubbled hero dude bullhockey. Decorated ex-drill instructor R. Lee Emery appears as the Naval captain leading the crew dependably sleepwalking through his performance.

Sensing this was going to be "one of those", I switched to a viewing perspective that totally rejects reality. Enjoyment levels rise when taking it as a good ol' Italian rip-off as it has many of the hallmarks. Some of the actors appear dubbed, the sets consist of bulky electronics randomly glued onto walls, and some gratuitous gore livens things up. Heads explode, limbs are torn off, monster tentacles tear apart like melons, gangrenous blanders pulse on victims, corpses call out for SOS, and claymation comes in for a few of the creature shots. The bio-suited cavernous gun/monster battles also echo Luigi Cozzi's Contamination (1980). Ultimately inoffensive crap at only seventy-nine minutes; although I'd suggest Antonio Margheriti's Alien from the Deep (Alien degli abissi) as the preferable 1989 trash alternative to The Abyss, Leviathan, and Deep Star Six.

I suspect Shochiku Home Video's VHS was simply taken from the standard English print since it has full English credits. In the same fashion as Grotesque, the Japanese's picture quality has a "baked", eroded appearance presumably compared to its U.S. counterpart. I have yet to see the stateside Live Home Video VHS, but the segmented videos on YouTube and pictures from the tapes around the 'net look vastly better. Shochiku's transfer also seems to have an extremely boosted color cast in many sequences, the cavern shots are GREEN, compared to a completely neutral palette seen elsewhere (like the trailer below).

Thursday, November 18

Blood Massacre (1991/1987) - Publicity Photo

Found this photo from Don Dohler's Blood Massacre while looking through an issue of Gary Svehla's Midnight Marquee (#43/Winter '92) published right here in Baltimore. The magazine's accompanying review fills in some gaps in my thoughts back in March. Apparently, the feature was indeed completed in 1987 as Dohler ran into enormous financial problems that halted the release until 1991. Also the film's negative somehow became heavily damaged, so a workprint was used for the VHS transfer, which explains the shower of debris all over the presentation. Check out the video trailer here.     

Wednesday, November 17

Tough to Kill (Duri a morire) (1978) - Canadian Lettuce Entertain You Inc. (Mr. Video) VHS

Dug this one out for David Z over at the epic TOMB IT MAY CONCERN. A Joe D'Amato actioner starring Luc Merenda that ended up as the title of David's awesome Italian Warsploitation tome, Tough to Kill: The Italian Action Explosion, Vol. 1 (grab it here). This NTSC release from Lettuce Entertain You, that also released Luigi Cozzi's Contamination (1980) as "Toxic Spawn", used the British Mr. Video cover and just slapped their sticker on the back. This is one very rare tape...

Tuesday, November 16

Some quick thoughts on The Walking Dead...so far... (no spoilers)

Big elephant in the room, right? AMC's new The Walking Dead small screen adaption is seventeen days old and just saw its third episode debut this past Sunday. Meanwhile I've been twiddling my thumbs, until last night, when the three VOD installments so far were consumed for the first time. My stupid ass was nearly set on waiting until the inevitable Blu-ray box set next year.

I hate to continually speak about my perspective (your usual self-centered blogger here), but I must explain my indifference towards television. Before I feel your eyes roll at the screen; no, I'm not one of those lying elitists who scoffs at the medium and swears they don't partake in such a lowly pastime. I find the episodic sitcom more palatable than the ongoing miniseries. Maybe that says something about the nature of my attention span since I frequently lose interest with weekly scripters like 24 or The Sopranos. You can usually find me "half-watching" those quasi-informative/entertainment numbers like Dirty Jobs or the stupidity of Ghost Adventures. So my interest leading up to this Frank Darabont-laded zombie TV event wasn't anywhere near the stratospheric levels of the majority of horror fandom. That and, I know this is wrong, I've never once cracked open an issue of the comic series.

No idea what I was thinking in this neglect after spending three hours with "Days Gone Bye", "Guts", and "Tell It to the Frogs". Who would have ever thought the possible savior of not only the zombie subgenre, but present dying-on-the-vine state of American horror, would originate from the boob tube? That sounds like a tall order until you realize Darabont's approach is what we've been desiring the genre to strive towards for years.

The Walking Dead shares the ardent focus on the revised condition of humanity after an unthinkable apocalypse seen in the best undead cinema and fiction. The most recent domestic live-action product that resembles this earthy tone is Tom Savini's Night of the Living Dead update from two decades ago. Perhaps major studios are leery of losing audiences with a thinking man's zombie flick, look to Land of the Dead's ultimate mediocrity, because screens in the country that birthed the flesheater haven't seen this serious brand of undead tale for far too long on such a scale.

The plight of these people is told in such a matter-of-fact fashion that the scenario is immediately believable. The characterizations could be criticized as cookie-cutter, yet this simplicity is what the traditional ideas in the genre need right now, instead of the Saw saga's continuing clusterfuck or the willful mutilation of once great icons in hollow remakes for first weekend box office. This back-to-basics narrative is clear and expressed without the political heavy-handedness of Romero's last few efforts.

Zombies are made frightening again by their mere presence as the new dominant species; not by running in triathlons with human flesh as the prize in high contrast actionfests. The direction across the episodes, with the first by Darabont himself, is confident, consistent, and most importantly not overly flashy while maintaining a cinematic feel. The make-up effects and "dark crimson" gore on display by Gregory Nicotero is excellent with very minimal use of CG. Common sense also prevails with the laws and presentation of the living dead. No runners, consumption of all flesh out of hunger, noise draws them, and you gotta get 'em in the head.

So far, so good with The Walking Dead. It's exciting, fun, refreshing, and genuinely touching in equal measure. AMC were wise in pursuing this venture and Darabont knows exactly what makes horror creep into our souls beyond making our nerves jump. I can't wait for Sunday night. One can only hope the great ratings continue and this popularity translates into a rejuvenation of how Hollywood views the genre. At least this is a start. We're long due for another renaissance, don't you think?

Monday, November 15

Werewolves on Wheels (1971) - 1982 Electric Video Inc. & 1986 Viking Video VHS

These two have been getting heat lately on eBay, at least the Viking Video edition. The Electric Video (EVI) tape is quite rare, featuring the original kickass poster art, and you don't see it pop up nearly as much as the Viking. The EVI has all the hallmarks of their small output in the uniform white cover layout and the cassette having no face label--only a cheap spine sticker with the title. The Viking looks like a cheap EP-speeder, but it's actually recorded on a high quality SP tape (which curiously has the "record over" tab intact). If you read fine print on the back of the Viking, you'll see a note assuring the quality of the recording. This was a notion completely lost in the deluge of sell-through and budget VHS releases that began flooding the marketplace in the early '90s.

Friday, November 12

The Mutilator (1985) - 1985 Vestron Video Rated & Unrated VHS and Betamax

I recently got a question on Facebook regarding the packaging difference between Vestron's cut and uncut tapes of Buddy Cooper's The Mutilator. It's fairly easy as the 84 minute R-rated version has a blue cover. The 86 minute Unrated version is in black. Both are properly labeled with their given version as well. Pardon the sticker on the Beta, it's sealed and there's no way of removing it without opening. Where's Code Red (or Scorpion Releasing) on this title?

Thursday, November 11

Wednesday, November 10

Some quick thoughts on Point Blank (1998)

Mickey Rourke stars as Rudy, an ex-mercenary who stealthily infiltrates a shopping mall in the grip of a hostage situation by a group of jailbroken inmates led by a criminal arms dealer (Paul Ben-Victor). One of the convicts, Joe Ray (Kevin Gage), is Rudy's estranged brother. Now, in the face of rising bodycount by one of the looser cannons (Danny Trejo), Rudy must defuse the standstill and try to save his brother from his own chaos.

Back in my thoughts on Uncommon Valor, I said that "the intellectual depth I prefer from this type of movie can be likened a neanderthal picking a thorn out of his big toe." By that same measure, Point Blank has the intellect of a person who believes that after the neanderthal finishes with his toe, he'll go out and battle a Triceratops for dinner. This blatant Die Hard rip-off gleefully crafts cliché into a surfboard and shreds on a torrent of fermented testicle sweat while devouring a Big Mac deep fried in macho, lard, and Budweiser. Disregard the whiners on the IMDB; they know nothing.

The failing of many Van Damme and Seagal direct-to-video actioners is how desperately they strive for substance at the behest of their star. They rarely admit that they're garbage and embrace the schlock with an aim for truly mindless entertainment. On the other hand, director Matt Earl Beesley's sole feature film couldn't give one flying goddamn about anything substantive besides playing around in Die Hard's skeletal framework transplanted into a Fort Worth mall. Point Blank never once winks at audience in recognition; making all the unintentional laughs all the more hearty.

This inept attitude translates into slivers of filet mignon for the trash action connoisseur. Beesley and four screenwriters pack so much guy flick triteness into ninety minutes that the film ends up being nothing but. Mickey Rourke is a fucking beast that looks to have swallowed three hundred pounds of Weider iron with a tan more orange than the cover art. His character is the embodiment of one of those cheap action figures modeled after G.I. Joe at a dollar store; with dead-to-rights aim even in mid-somersault, clunky Fred Williamson-style karate, and a panache for auto-healing after getting sliced or shot. Rourke does get one emotional scene in which he essentially slobbers all over Gage, this was part of his uphill climb back into "real" acting, but he's mostly sauntering about and assaulting body parts like the motherfucker he is.

"That guy" actor Paul Ben-Victor's Hans Gruber variant is ineffective and strangely shifts tone from an affluent businessman with a vague European accent, to stereotypically gay, to having something of a Chicago accent. Machete's Danny Trejo is the picture's real villain as a coke-snortin' female brutalizer and hostage murderer. We even get several hilarious instant quotables from his character, like "There's cobwebs on my nutsack!" and "How about I do a blowjob on your brains across the wall!" Michael Wright appears as Wesley Snipes and/or token black guy who relays a sympathetic story about stabbing a "motherfucker" that was bangin' his wife fourteen times until the dude's heart was "hamburger" with added emphasis on the tattoo on his ass, standing up buck naked, and erection. I nearly choked to death on my pretzels at that point. The homoerotism frequently reaches critical mass in Point Blank, perhaps by happy accident.

No one seems to have acknowledged Point Blank as a crap action classic. It doesn't reach the heights of Skyscraper (1996) or Hard to Die (1990) in the John McClane riffage sweepstakes, but there's much to laugh along with. Matt Earl Beesley manages to make a 1998 feature that looks like it's from 1991 with a host of talented actors, especially Trejo and Gage, even after they found vastly larger success. Rourke's redemption was a few years away, but if you want to see why he fits in with the other Expendables, just look here. Perfect three a.m. fodder with nuked cheesesteak sub leftovers and a few beers.

Tuesday, November 9

Prison (プリズン) (1988) - 1988 CIC/Empire Pictures/Victor Japan "Etched Foil" VHS

Been wanting this tape for awhile, Renny Harlin's Prison from CIC/Victor with a holofoil cover that brilliantly catches light. All of the reflective specs and studio info at the bottom of the back cover wasn't picked up by the scanner. It is the fully uncut version in English with Japanese subs. The back also had a big rental sticker stuck right on the cover but Goo Gone saved the day! I liked this one back in these May thoughts, even with the dumb climax (definitely a Harlin flick), and ordered the British DVD yesterday for a rewatch. I'll report my critique of that disc's picture quality in the future.

Monday, November 8

Some quick thoughts on Lost Boys: The Thirst (2009)

After the death of their fellow vampire hunter, Sam, Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan Frog (Jamison Newlander) go into a reclusive quasi-retirement in San Cazador, California. That is until the author of a series of extremely popular teen-orientated vampire novels seeks help in finding her abducted brother. She suspects the fanged plan to make her sibling the grand main course at a huge underground rave possibly spearheaded by the alpha vampire. The suckers also have a new drug, dubbed "Thirst", that's actually infected blood aimed at creating an army of the undead.

Alan is reluctant, believing it'll be another runaround, but Edgar suits up in honor of his slain friend. The only problem is the writer recruits a muscleheaded reality star, who thinks the whole thing is a scam, and his clumsy camera guy to join the rescue team prior to Edgar's consent. So Edgar, accompanied with a smitten friend from a local comic shop, begin preparations for the group's heavily holy water-armed party crashing.

Those damn impulse buys at Wal Mart. Instead of making a proper beeline to the TP and barbecue sauce, without fail I'm always shuffling my feet over to the Entertainment section. After coyly calling my name from the shelf for a few weeks, the temptation of this most recent Lost Boys sequel became too much. I'm still totally avoiding The Tribe after its cavalcade of poor reception, but I'll be damned if this third franchise milking wasn't surprisingly enjoyable.

You can either thank or curse Twilight for the extremely belated rebirth of this series. Tribe and Thirst exist solely on the reemergence of the vampire in pop culture. The two also fall into the relatively recent spat of DTV horror that tangentially latch onto a more successful or merely well-known title to move copies quickly before being thrown in the discount bin. Seeing Thirst in that light, this Corey Feldman-centric exercise in fan service is one of the better examples of these piggyback budgeters.

Yes, Feldman is the star, and your enjoyment level might be predicated on your fondness of the once-hottest-thing-on-the-planet teen actor. I've never understood the disdain despite his checkered history of media oversaturation, drug use, Michael Jackson, and having his physical appearance frozen in his 20s. Feldman appears at peace with his past and there's something pleasantly meta in how his Edgar Frog handles the death of Sam, played by the now deceased Corey Haim in the first and second, in Thirst. It genuinely pains Edgar that he couldn't save his friend and before embarking on his mission visits Sam's grave to pay respects (and lay his copy of Batman #14 at the headstone). The actor nails the terse mannerisms of the admittedly goofy character with a plucky Casey Dolan and knockout Tanit Phoenix providing well-acted eye candy.

Italian director Dario Piana pulls his own weight with a decidedly keen eye for scope composition. Upon first seeing the 2:40.1 widescreen framing, I figured it was merely used as another reference to the original. How wrong was I because Piana makes the best of the situation and consistently offers exciting use of the extra wide aspect ratio. It's not flashy and adds so much to something other directors might have lazily waded through. After seeing this, I want to check out Piana's prior The Deaths of Ian Stone and look forward to his future work. At a slim 80 minutes, Thirst also doesn't drag and the levity injected into the screenplay provides enough dumb chuckles to sheen over the nothingness the whole thing rests on.

Lost Boys: The Thirst is unusually great for what it is, it won't please diehard fans of Joel Schumacher's cool classic, but that train seemed long departed years before these sequels were first conceived. If anything, Piana provides a nice comic book nightcap that hits more than misses and proves fan service can be done without alienating newcomers or causal fans. If you're still leery, either rent or wait until this disc drops to the five or six buck level that Tribe sits at. Or if you haven't bought Tribe, consider putting that saved cost towards Thirst now. Warner Premiere's DVD looks very good with plenty of fine detail and virtually no edge enhancement. Odd considering this type of fare usually receives mediocre standard def picture quality nowadays. The only extra is a short featurette involving the romanticism in vampire lore hosted by Charisma Carpenter that has nothing to do with the film. The Blu-ray, which I wish I would have grabbed instead, has several exclusive featurettes that actually deal with Thirst.

Sunday, November 7

Saw IV (2007) - Unusual Bootleg DVD

Scanning a table of legitimate, used DVDs at the swap meet this morning, my eye caught an odd looking spine for Saw IV. Picking it out revealed a bootleg of dubious origin, but this was a bit different from the usual DVD-R quickie. I normally don't buy bootlegs, mostly out of my support for smaller video distributors, but this was an "old" title from a seller who obviously wasn't a bootlegger. As you know, illegal copies mostly suck on the grounds of packaging quality, usually housed in cheap super slim cases that reek of freshly-opened Barbie doll with photocopied covers that appear toasted in a microwave.

This boot of Saw IV exhibits a surprisingly level of care for something designed to reap maximum return for the unscrupulous. The case actually has a cardboard "o-card" slipcover with an embossed "bumpy" title. The double-sided cover is on high quality stock with a poster design on the reverse. The dual-layer disc itself sports a very well done silkscreened label and is factory pressed. The interlaced transfer of the unrated cut (PG-13?!?) is anamorphic and the only sound option is Dolby 5.1. There's no extras features and only a basic animated menu.

Otherwise, this disc shows all the usual signs of an average bootleg. The back synopsis barely makes sense, spelling errors in the cast information, technical specs only being "sorta" correct, and the legal blurb at the bottom taken from an MGM/UA title. At least Dolby Laboratories received the correct copyright information. Not to mention the big behind-the-scenes photo of Darren Lynn Bousman framing up a shot. There's one unintentional piece of hilarity featured on this disc--the horribly translated English subtitles. Nearly every line is way off and Detective Hoffman is sometimes referred to as "Yao". The word "no" is substituted for "can't" and "be" frequently replaces "is" ("this be the detective of Peter Strahm"). Reading over the severely broken sentences, I'm guessing a person in China with English as a sketchy second language did the translation. Whoever you are, thank you for making me cough Corn Flakes all over my screen in choking laughter.

Here's Jigsaw's final tape-recorded words in the last scene as Hoffman stands over his embalmed body from the subs:

you feel the whole to all exert you control under BE?
do you feel that you can evaded a test?
I promise that my plan will also continue, I promise
hear this dish tape some people will perhaps feel the whole to all end
but I still at you in the center
you think because of the dead of my dead everything end?
haven't end, the game just started, just, just...

Saturday, November 6

Some quick thoughts on Night of the Demons (2009)

A bunch of twenty-something teens stage a Halloween bash in a decrepit mansion with a murky past of black magic, murder, and suicide. Just as the debauchery reaches a fever pitch, the police halt the VD-exchanges and demand the party be shut down, but host Angela (Shannon Elizabeth) and a few of the guests stick around. Upon poking around in the basement, they discover a hidden room containing several pruned corpses laid in a strange pattern. Angela wisely tries to pry a gold tooth from one of the dead and is quickly snapped at for her efforts. The others pass it off as "reflex" but soon the poor, smokin' hot thirty-seven-year-old's health progressively worsens. And then, you called it, the night of the demons begins...

Despite thoroughly enjoying it, I've never held the original Night of the Demons as a sacred idol on ye high '80s trash mountain. Tenney, who co-produced this "remake", made a durable little demon stew of surprisingly grisly effects, sexy time, and Linnea Quigley voiding the instructed use of lipstick. Ultimately, a lil bit of this and a lil bit of that satisfyingly thrown together. The series went on to spawn two sequels; the second being not that bad while the third an annoying wasted opportunity. So I've been perfectly fine with the prospects of this modern revisit. I mean, the end result, no matter how bad, would just have to be better than the third sequel, right...?

Thankfully, Adam Gierasch's remake accomplishes what it sets out to do, but not without a few caveats. The approach of Night of the Demons '09 is reminiscent of Snyder's take on the seemingly impossible task of remaking Dawn of the Dead. There's a rough-hewn outline in the new feature that resembles the original, but besides that, the sandbox is completely different. We're essentially watching a fourth NotD sequel considering the official continuations jettisoned most meaningful connections to Tenney's first anyway (besides Angela, of course). Trying to look at this one in direct comparison to the 1988 film will give one's cranium a case of the Ironsides. This utter non-adherence to simply re-tell the prior story is this re-imagining's best attribute, as one can tell Gierasch isn't trying to trump Tenney, but rather pay splashy tribute to gory, Fulci-side-up horror through a non-rocket science concept that writes itself.

Is it all flesh-colored glasses? Not quite. Unlike Amelia Kinkade's Angela, we don't really get to see much of Shannon Elizabeth's Angela to the point that she doesn't seem the leader of Hell's incarnate nor the one everyone should fear most. Like so many recent horror films, way too much time is spent mulling around the humans, despite the viewer just waiting until the next clawed evisceration from the bad guys. Films like Night of the Demons survive on the momentum established after the shit goes down and this emphasis on the living fractures this remake. At a certain point, the survivors find a room with spells and symbols sprawled across the walls that keeps demonic forces out. They plan to wait until daylight when the demons recede and suddenly the whole movie grinds to a stop. Naturally, the horned ones trick them and things pick back up, but afterward the narrative flounders about unsure of its footing to the conclusion. There's a time for exposition and a time to roll with the fury of napalm; Gierasch should have chosen the latter.

A well-fed Edward Furlong fatnecks his way through the role of a low level coke-swapping thug trapped in the mansion. The character is the outsider of the group being indebted to and missing a life-or-death due date with his British-accented boss. John Conner's presence is out-of-place here; almost as if the production wanted a "name", any name, to give the film more recognition to audiences. Should have called up Charles Napier or something. Another off-putting performance is that of Monica Keena; who was the blonde chick in Freddy vs. Jason. She's the lead and while decent, there's something tiring about watching her as the film progresses. One gets the impression that her delivery is blatantly from her memory of the script and not her character speaking. She also has this sudden, uncanny way of relying a encyclopedic knowledge of the mansion and even potential weaknesses of the demonic foes.

Still, I'm being hard on Night of the Demons. It is, for the most part, brisk fun that snaps in nicely with the original trilogy. I'm even inclined to totally forget about the third sequel and insert this one in its place. Great make-up effects, very minimal use of CG, and an obvious love for both the original and "old school" horror in general. Check it out. EOne Entertainment's Blu-ray presentation looks and sounds solid (albeit not spectacular). Given that the high def disc's price is so close to that of the DVD, the preferred format is really up to you.    

Thursday, November 4

Fascination (1979) - French American Video/Clean Distribution VHS

A little VHS love for one of Jean Rollin's greats, Fascination, while BoGD's template is tweaked. To my knowledge, Rollin's film has been released in its native country several times on analog video with this particular tape issued in the mid-'90s being the last edition. Notice how the front cover's art was taken from the Spanish poster of Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve (Reazione a catena) (seen here). American Video also released N.G. Mount's Ogroff, relive the magic, under the "Mad Mutilator" title.

Wednesday, November 3

Nightmare on Elm Street 5 (나이트메어5) (A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child) (1989) - 1991 Starmax South Korean VHS

Here's another Korean tape that plopped into my mailbox, Starmax's "Nightmare on Elm Street 5" clamshell. As with some of my other tapes from this country, the home video market there must have been geared towards A/V-minded enthusiasts over the average joe. This VHS starts with a contrast and color bar pattern with orchestral Hi-Fi demo playing over the tests. No movie previews, but two short commercials depicting affluent types hawking a Samsung 8mm camcorder and VCR. The version presented is the R-rated cut, like New Line's recent VHS and DVD, but unlike Media Entertainment's original unrated VHS. The source seems to be a theatrical print exhibiting a metric ton of stray lines, flecks, and even reel change burns throughout the feature.

As for Elm Street 5, probably since I saw it at a young age, it's not what I'd consider the worst of the series. Some interesting ideas are present, most obviously the Krueger's Baby angle (complete with weighty abortion allusions), but yea, it's a mess otherwise from a severely undercooked screenplay. Freddy is pure comedian, somehow looks far older than he did in any other entry, and his few kills are as goofy as his one-liners. Check out the cool lion sticker on the spine!

Monday, November 1

Some quick thoughts on Tokyo Zombie (東京ゾンビ) (2005)

Fujio (Tadanobu Asano) and Mitsuo (Show Aikawa) are two half-wits obsessed with Jujutsu who work in the shadow of an enormous man-made toxic garbage mountain dubbed the "Black Fuji". The undead eventually rise up from the ashen dirt and overtake Tokyo with the oblivious pair embarking on a journey to escape to Russia and survive by their limited sparring ability.
Sakichi Sato's Tokyo Zombie is one of those rare instances in which a cinematic sitdown leaves you entirely cold, but strangely reluctant to lay the blame on the movie itself. After its early millennial renaissance, the Far East horror scene quickly dwindled by the time this particular film debuted in Japan. I can even recall first hearing about Tokyo Zombie and being surprised to hear of a new Japanese horror film aside from Kurosawa's ultimately so-so The Loft. Unsure what exactly caused this dim in popularity, but Japanese audiences aren't immune to burnout, as evident in the Sadako mania to sweep the country after the release of Hideo Nakata's Ringu. So by the mid-point of the last decade, J-horror was stumbling on its feet and I remain leery of this on-going wave of over-the-top gore.

Interestingly, this faithful adaption of Yusaku Hanakuma's manga could be viewed as an open rejection of the staleness that became the country's genre endeavors by that point. The zombie aspect is pushed so far into the background that it proves an unsatisfying device employed for drama in what's essentially a standard buddy comedy. Instead, the focus rests on the progression of the almost father-and-son relationship between Fujio and Mitsuo. This will most likely alienate those coming for the undead. If the painfully quirky leads don't click, you'll probably not want to stick with Tokyo Zombie to its conclusion.

The bulk of the comedy is no relief being a very Japanese style of subtle Laurel & Hardy slapstick. Unlike the superior Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Braindead (Dead Alive) (1992), the zombie wrapping paper isn't an integral component to the comedy. Sato offers a brand of quick-witted character interplay, presumably playing better to those fluent in the native language, than to those sifting for humor in subtitles. Again, this will most likely alienate those coming for the laughs being neither here-or-there as a comedy or horror film.

Tokyo Zombie is on an island by itself where both of its key elements cancel each other out. Maybe that's the point? A screen interpretation that probably plays best with those who are already fans of the manga. Sato, who played "Charlie Brown" in Kill Bill Vol. 1, should be praised for translating the source to film so well considering the budget. Asano and Aikawa hold their own as the eccentric duo anchoring the overly zany proceedings. The inclusion of the country's enduring subtext of mankind's doings and sloth being its own end, think Godzilla, is also a nice touch. Still, if you're looking for zombie mayhem, a laugh riot, or even really a combination--look elsewhere.
...do you dare tread upon the staircase?

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