Saturday, December 31

The White Buffalo (1977) - DEG/King Records Japan VHS

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It's easy to see why J. Lee Thompson's bit of historical revisionist fluff concerning Wild Bill Hickok, played by Charles Bronson, venturing after an enormous white buffalo that haunts his dreams failed to spark the interest of moviegoers and critics upon release. Not only was the Western genre in hibernation at the time, but the movie reeks of low production value with cheap wardrobe, "western town" studio backlot sets, and a barely above made-for-television atmosphere (remembering television features were pretty great back then). Although intended to take a mythological tone, the cumbersome animatronic buffalo is unconvincing as a real animal puffing and galloping along hidden rail tracks like part of a Disneyland attraction. Spielberg's Jaws shot the bar sky high for creature features like this, producer Dino De Laurentiis purposely wished to ape that classic here, and Lucas' maiden voyage telling past tales of a galaxy far away certainly didn't help.

But that doesn't mean The White Buffalo isn't entertaining in hindsight. Like many Bronson flicks, it's perfect over a reheated, greasy sub with extra hots at two in the morning as you try futilely to eat something to quell an impeding hangover. Charley is a bit limited, the screenplay doesn't get too deep into any real Wild Bill insight, but the portrayal does retain the gunfighter's rumored case of syphilis with the actor wearing dark sunglasses to ward off worsening light sensitivity. Will Sampson does what he was known for playing a disgraced Native American chief in search of redemption after the beast rampages through and kills many in his tribe. Jack Warden eventually joins in to assist Hickok in his quest but ultimately can't grow to trust the redman also after their prize. A host of familiar faces such as Clint Walker, Stuart Whitman, Ed Lauter, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, and even Martin Kove populate modest roles and walk-ons. I would mention Kim Novak, but the actress is barely in the film as an innkeeper Hickok has prior history with. Innocuous stuff that might actually be a good Bronson primer for little ones as there's only a few splashes of super bright blood mixed into the adventurous folklore.

Thursday, December 29

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) - RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video Screener VHS

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I've always enjoyed Jeff Burr's contribution to this series, despite New Line's heavy hand in the production and a fair share of fan criticism thrown its way. Like Tobe Hooper's realization that everything his original is could never be tapped into again when approaching the second sequel, I always took Leatherface for what it is and never made comparisons to the 1974 classic. It's just hard not to like Ken Foree as a gun-totin' weekend warrior, Tom Everett being all mumbly and awesome as Alfredo, and Joe Unger saying stuff like "Technology is our friend." and "Go get the meat!". Not to mention Leatherface's increasing frustration in mistaking a clown as "FOOD" on his newly acquired electronic kid's learning game. A very early '90s feeling horror film that makes a great companion to New Line's F13 debut, Jason Goes to Hell (1993).

This screener isn't anything special representing the theatrical R-rated version. The full frame picture quality is sketchy with damage and reel cues with audible pops after these changes. Oddly enough the sparse on-screen "not for sale or rental" text usually appears around the time these burns occur. A video trailer appears before the film that begins like the regular trailer but then breaks into a quick montage of snippets, after Leatherface spins around with his saw, to the tune of Laaz Rockit's Leatherface from the official soundtrack.

(notice how Ken Foree is mistakenly credited has "Ken Force" on the back)

Tuesday, December 27

Monday, December 26

Night Warning (Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker) (1983) - 1983 Thorn EMI Video Betamax

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Really going to have pull this one down and finally watch it! Also thank you everyone for 300k hits!

Sunday, December 25

Saturday, December 24

Some quick thoughts on The Wax Mask (M.D.C. - Maschera di cera) (1997)

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Originally conceived as a comeback for a long ailing Lucio Fulci who passed shortly before production began, The Wax Mask is a twist on the tradition of House of Wax set at the dawn of the 20th century in Paris. A master wax sculptor (Robert Hossein) harboring a "mechanical" secret and his apprentice are adding to their public collection by way of kidnapping and brutal chemical treatments. A young, beautiful assistant (Romina Mondello) with troubling childhood experiences joins the duo and unwittingly becomes their prey. Her only hope rests in the hands of a reporter (Riccardo Longhi) both snooping around as death haunts the waxworks and courting the fare maiden.

At the risk of pissing off The Wax Mask's fans who deem it as proof gothic horror was still kicking in '97, the impression left from SFX artist Sergio Stivaletti's directorial debut was more period soap opera than Mario Bava. Before you heave your tomatoes and breadsticks understand that this prim and proper quality actually leads to an bittersweet observation in regards to the state of Italian horror.

By the time this dedication to Fulci debuted, the country's cinematic sea change from capitalistic to artistic had already taken hold and there's hints of this riddled throughout. There's almost no veteran genre holdovers inhabiting minor roles in a cast of near total Italian descent. International distribution probably wasn't a priority as the shooting language was obviously Italian with the English dub making little effort to match lips (think Godzilla). And in spite of being directed by a man capable of ample amounts of screen mayhem, the gore is sparse and placed aside in favor of a "purposeful" atmosphere and costumes reminiscent of Mel Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995). Just without the comedy, that is. The rich orchestral score by Maurizio Abeni also shuns any electronic doodling with a sound echoing Danny Elfman's work on Burton's two Batmans. Serious business, folks.

So while competently made, the mood begins to wane as the story lumbers along to its inevitable climax between the girl (strapped nude to a tortuous chair for "waxing"), her lover, and madman. It's a shame that this exercise in "restructuring" what it meant to be a horror film produced in Italy lost that vital something in translation (there's even a couple CG effects). Ultimately, The Wax Mask is an interesting curiosity but there's a reason Michele Soavi's 1994 Dellamorte Dellamore has become the official page break of the industry. Pony Canyon's Japanese LaserDisc looks and sounds very solid framed at 1.66:1 widescreen. The picture quality is actually nicer than Image's long out-of-print DVD which manages to have crispy edge enhancement and clumpy textures. I often forgot I was watching an LD...
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The Cruelest Fate...

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Noticed this cover change stopping at Big Lots this morning. Not even mediocre DTV sequels deserve this...

Friday, December 23

Specters (Spettri) (1987) - Canadian Norstar Home Video, Inc. VHS

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Despite its slagged on reputation, there's nothing really wrong with Marcello Avallone's Specters (Spettri) outside of it being a quite slow and cookie-cutter affair. Donald Pleasence heads up a team of young archaeologists who uncover a crypt forewarning of evil, naturally the evil is set free, some bulky-looking green muscular demon begins dispatching those that dare poke around, and it comes down to a race against the clock to seal the tomb forever before it's too late (of course).

While Avallone avoids making the Italian production look overly cheap, there's very little meat and the English dubbing often times sounds extremely disinterested. The rubbery demon's kills are also very quick and I wouldn't be surprised to hear they were trimmed (apparently the Japanese tape is uncut). Norstar's VHS is identical to the stateside Imperial Entertainment release right down to carrying Imperial's opening logo.

Wednesday, December 21

Some quick thoughts on The Expendables (Director's Cut) (2011)

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Upon repeat viewings of Sly's geriatric twilight-life crisis, the single biggest problem, and the issue most likely alienating those looking for something other than big dumb action, is how The Expendables places the onus on the audience to have a general sense of the characters and story based on prior experiences with big dumb action flicks before witnessing a single frame. In other words, the viewer is dropped headlong into the proceedings without your traditional first installment set-up. The film is aware that most moviegoers have seen this all before with its conceit being while there's nothing new here, that's never been done with such a dream team of genre heavyweights/regulars.

Such "concept action" is both refreshing and frustrating. It's nice to skip the usual formalities to get to what you came, or paid, to see. To venture into another genre, this is one of the big quibbles I have with Freddy vs. Jason (2003). For such a horror fan wet dream come true, the film drags through the parts involving the living when most only care about is seeing two slasher titans tear each other asunder. While The Expendables lacks much of this bullshit, what's there that isn't exploding bodies or bricks feels like little more than vignettes for each big marquee name to chew away at. Statham gets the girl, Lundgren goes nuts, Stallone's eyes look fucking weird, Couture gets a speech, Rourke bares his lack of soul, and so on...

So when Stallone intros this new Director's Cut Blu-ray, in costume on the set of the sequel, stating this version is his intended, "more human" vision; I couldn't help groan just a little. Some character building would definitely help, but its brutal edge need not be dulled. Thankfully, or perhaps annoyingly, it's essentially the same film with so many predominately small alterations that it becomes tough to keep track. Not only has Stallone added new chunks, but also trimmed/deleted bits, re-ordered scenes, replaced specific shots with different angles, and changed certain dialogue passages. Most surprisingly, Lundgren's Gunnar Jensen is the most fleshed out of the characters in the DC adding more dimension to what was a flat performance in the theatrical version.

What's sorely lacking is any change to Jet Li's embarrassing Ying Yang. We still get his unexplained rambling about needing more money for his family and being shorter than the rest of the team. Li's English is painfully rusty yet there's a clear sense he'd rather be doing another historical mega-epic in his homeland than playing sixth fiddle in an ensemble cast. Given how quiet Li's involvement in the sequel has been, it's a good bet "Ying Yang" will be the one to meet the slab in the sequel. This would also make sense with the arc of Lundgren's character. Maybe Yang and Jensen are on a dangerous sidejob for extra cash in which Yang is mortally wounded with Jensen desperate to save him. Yang dies and despite being the man that almost killed him in the first film, Jensen now finds a reason to live and never betray the team again to avenge Yang's death. Queue the resurrection of Dolph Lundgren.

The two most obvious changes are the opening credits and final siege after the enormous palace denotation. The credits have a meditative tone as we watch quiet moments with each of the team members on the flight home after mutilating a dozen or so Somali pirates. The huge climatic battle now has Shinedown's Diamond Eyes playing in its entirety, and while that sounds potentially irritating, it actually greatly helps the manic energy of the sequence over the theatrical's choice of Brian Tyler's score.

So while this Director's Cut may not change the opinion of those that didn't like the prior cut, those that enjoyed it will find a better, leaner, and meaner version of a big dumb action flick that certainly doesn't escape that label even with the myriad of well-intended "human" changes. The sequel has the potential to make this film better if it manages to build off this one's unanswered questions. The only problem with this Blu-ray is how there's zero supplemental material covering the extensive work done to create this new version. Not even a new commentary. Boo.
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Monday, December 19

Japanese LaserDisc for 1¢ (+ $6 shipping)

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Sorry about another entry about a Japanese LD for a second day in a row, but I'm still all giddy over what arrived today. This one was spotted last week on eBay without any mention of being the Japanese edition beside a picture of the cover. Amazingly, I won with the starting bid of one shiny penny and six bucks shipping. Perhaps even more amazing is that the seller came through and the LD traveled across the entire country via UPS Ground intact. Too awesome!


(notice how one of the chapters is named "Fuck you, asshole")

Sunday, December 18

Prison (1988) - 1988 NEC Avenue Japan LaserDisc

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Very badass LaserDisc came in yesterday, Renny Harlin's contribution to the late '80s/early '90s mini-wave of lock up-themed horror, Prison, on the NEC Avenue label from Japan. There's nothing special about the presentation outside of the cover being so damn cool. The full frame picture is noticeably more colorful and sharper than the dark and greenish-tinted Japanese VHS. MGM owns the domestic rights to this film, so there's probably going be a Limited Edition DVD-R release eventually...    

Saturday, December 17

Ratman (Quella villa in fondo al parco) (1988) - 1998 Albatros Co., Ltd. Japan VHS

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My best guess is that Ratman's production company, Fulvia Film, figured it would be a solid investment to build a horror feature around one of the shortest people alive, Nelson de la Rosa, for merely exploitative marketing purposes. De la Rosa plays the titular "rat man" created by a loon scientist in the tropics that escapes from his birdcage to murderously reek havoc on anyone who crosses his path.

Veterans David Warbeck and Janet Agren literally fly in for a payday, and while still looking great, only inhabit maybe forty percent of the runtime. The rest is devoted to a photographer (Werner Pochath), his top model (the busty Eva Grimaldi), and said scientist running afoul of the vicious, rodent version of Shortround. Spaghetti western stalwart director Giuliano Carnimeo was probably dying inside a little more with each passing day on set with the realization of just what he's helming. Certainly not primo Italian trash, but its always welcoming to see either Warbeck, despite not being dubbed by himself, or the beautiful Agren in such bygone hokum cruelly exploiting an individual's natural circumstances in life.

Albatros' VHS benefits from being fairly recent and looks great considering the murky lighting. The picture is framed oddly with a large top bar and very slim bottom bar but nothing seems trimmed. The tape starts with this trailer for Deadly Ransom (1997) and one specifically made for Ratman's Japanese video release (seen here). Also I'd bet the three mutilated limbs seen on the front cover below are actually snipped from real death photos. No idea why the Ratman is donning a red smock since he never does in the film. Maybe Albatros was trying make a connection to the crazed butcher-knife wielding midget in Don't Look Now (1973)...?!

Thursday, December 15

Good Mail Day...plus Full Moon Deals at Dollar General!

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I haven't confirmed this firsthand, but apparently Dollar General (and possibly also Family Dollar) have Full Moon's Subspecies Epic Collection and Puppet Master Collection box sets for only ten bucks a pop. That doesn't seem too great with Echo Bridge triple featuring these two series for $5 at Wal Mart; however, these ten buck sets were and are considerably more expensive online. It's still unclear which exact Puppet Master set they're selling, but it would be funny if it was the "complete" collection that at one time was commanding hundreds on eBay...until Full Moon mysteriously found more. Now it looks like the liquidators have come a knockin'...

...and hooray for mail!

Wednesday, December 14

Saturday, December 10

Semi-hiatus...maybe...

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Some really bad pain began in my lower left jaw Thursday night and I'm fairly certain I've earned a cavity of undetermined severity. I can't get it taken care of until later this coming week, so understandably I'm not too keen on concentrating enough to write until a visit is paid to Dr. Alan Feinstone. I'll be periodically checking in here and lingering on the Facebook, but entries on both might be slim for the next week or so. Depends on how I feel. Stuff is still streaming in through the mailbox like the tapes below. Kim's Krypt 2001 was found at a thrift shop this morning. Rotting teeth will not stop the hunt...

Wednesday, December 7

Some quick thoughts on Interzone (1987)

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Bruce Abbott (Re-Animator) stars as the badass in this late Italian Mad Max emulator enlisted by temple monks to protect an area seemingly immune to radiation, dubbed the "Interzone", from a gang of bandit thugs led by female bodybuilder Teagan Clive. The monks send one of their own, Panasonic (Kiro Wehara), to assist Abbott's Swan with ever cute Beatrice Ring (Zombie 3) joining in. Eventually, Swan realizes the only way to stop the marauders is to befriend them and try to sabotage their ranks from within.

It's 1987. Not only is the old guard of the Italian filmmaking industry dead on its feet but the post-apocalyptic subgenre has long since been regulated to the scrapheap of passé celluloid. So what are writer/director Deran Sarafian and co-writer Claudio Fragasso trying to accomplish with Interzone? Surprisingly, there's a streak of incidental Monty Python-esque humor running through all the usual abuses of tight leather and lush Rome countryside doubling as dystopian rubble. This aspect is so refreshing considering most admittedly goofy post-nuke pasta rips desperately trying to be stoic in their delivery while absurdity blooms all around. I personally don't care for most of these subgenre efforts from Italy for this reason, but Interzone successfully presents a more light-hearted take to help savage what would otherwise be a total footnote.

With the cast in on the fun, the dumb quips and out-of-blue laughs (i.e. - the monk leader is named General Electric) are the sole reason to seek this one out. There's even a strong resemblance to the opening of Army of Darkness (1992) when a shotgun-toting Abbott is thrown into a boggy cavern to face off with one of the Pit Bitch's relatives. Fun crap worth keeping an eye out for if taken as more a comedy and not as another scorched earth actioner. The full frame presentation on Tohokushinsha's Japanese VHS is identical to the North American Trans World Entertainment VHS.
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Monday, December 5

Some quick thoughts on Conjure (or Matt Busch: The Movie) (2006)

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From the IMDB: Finding his high profile illustration career to be less than meaningful, Matt Busch sets out to find a more rewarding personal project. Visiting a nearby graveyard, Matt stumbles upon an old photograph of a South-American castle. Obsessed with the photo, Matt begins to bring the castle to life with a vibrant full-color painting. At the same time, he creates sinister sketches of the tortured souls who he imagines inhabit the gothic dwelling. While Matt creates his cryptic world in his studio, his girlfriend Sarah is confronted with ghostly encounters throughout the rest of the home. Eventually the art becomes so real, that Matt and Sarah find themselves manifested in the actual castle and must confront the demonic spirits conjured from Matt's twisted nightmares...

Unbeknownst to me, writer/director/producer/star Matt Busch is an accomplished artist and self-proclaimed "rock star of illustration" of pop culture the likes of Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and a slew of other hot properties. With such a talent essentially playing himself, you'd think Conjure's premise would write itself, yet ultimately it's an exercise in vanity by Busch that's more interesting for what it's not.

The film trips into the usual problems that often plague extremely cheap, digital video horror. It takes far too long to do nothing and relies on nonsensical "fright" montages to push the story along as important details that could have instead filled the runtime are heaved to the wayside. An example being a random book Busch pulls from his art supply shelf containing aged, Tom Sullivan-like Necronomicon pages depicting strange symbols and terrifying female spectres. These ghosts eventually haunt Busch and his squeeze, but there's zero explaination of how the book, obviously drawn by the artist, came to be. It seems logical to instead have the manifestations increase in their spectral intensity as Busch draws each page as the story unfolds. Yet no, soon after the discovery of the ready-made tome, we're treated to a bunch of quick cutting imagery of the ghosts before Busch and girlfriend mysteriously end up in front of the very castle he's been driven to paint.

Another problem arises in the lack of chemistry between the couple. Even in the most dire circumstances, their reactions range from annoyance to wanting to get back home in time for the game. I guess having stroke-like symptoms in your studio while your girlfriend watches garners a snippy response from her. Or subsequently waking up in front of an abandoned "castle" in a South American jungle receiving something of an "aw shucks, let's explore" instead of complete and abject fucking terror, even after Busch admits he's had visions of the place before and there's no escape. In other words, the passion in his artwork definitely doesn't translate to the screen.

Conjure's main genre influence is blatantly The Evil Dead, which makes me question Busch's interest in horror, considering the trite and immature choice. No offense, but let's face it, Raimi's landmark of indie horror is the film every also-ran in indie horror desperately wants to emulate, so even tipping your hat to it is groan-inducing. Yes, Ashley and the Deadites are fucking awesome, we all know this, time to blaze your own trail. Guess what Busch has to do with the pages of the book to finally vanquish the demons? 

With more finesse and less echoes of Carly Simon's 1972 mega-hit, Conjure could have proven something akin to a preemptive Paranormal Activity. As this one stands, Busch's heartless sell of his film in this interview over at The Blood Sprayer says it all: "It started off as an experiment, but Conjure was my very first feature length movie that I made myself. I play myself in the movie, and I draw all these really creepy tortured souls that come to life and try to kill me and my girlfriend. Eventually we get manifested into this painting of a South American castle. Survival horror ensues, and we need to find a way back. When it found distribution, the movie actually became the highest pre-selling horror movie of all time, according to Horror-Movies.com." Such (robotic) passion!
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Saturday, December 3

I've finally moved up in the world...of high end stereo 8-track

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...now I just need to find something other than the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack! 

Thursday, December 1

My first "carded" Japanese VHS!

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Many tapes from Japan come with info cards/pamphlets usually always lost with time, but not this one!

Wednesday, November 30

Tuesday, November 29

So Two Evil Dead 2s walk into a bar...

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After casually checking several different sold out Wal Marts since its release, I finally found a (single) copy of Lionsgate's 25th Anniversary Evil Dead 2 Blu-ray and I'm pleased to report the six year long curse has been lifted. Yes, Anchor Bay's ruination of this sequel by way of godawful picture manipulation is as dead as decapitated Henrietta.

It all started with The Book of the Dead edition in 2005 when the video distributor saw fit to released its third EDII disc in a limited edition replica of the Necronomicon designed by Tom Sullivan. Despite this ambitious packaging and new featurette, something insidious was lurking on the disc. Chiefly an enormous amount of digital noise reduction that made a smeary mess of the film. In their stupidity, Anchor Bay apparently listened to fans who complained about the signs of grain on their prior, and still excellent, THX DVD. Not only was the picture wiped of any trace of standard def fine detail; but color, brightness, and contrast were thrown grossly off. Instead of the more neutral blue and deep blacks of the THX, the BoGD's yellow-leaning colors are best described as "pastel" with overly bright, gray black levels. This pig was only dressed up when Anchor Bay hastily released a Blu-ray in the early days of the format using the same trashed master.

I realized this immediately and refused to buy both discs out of principle (the Blu-ray ended up a gift). I can also vividly remember chatting with other fans with the process akin to talking to a brickwall whenever I voiced my correct opinion of the crap treatment Evil Dead 2 received. Thankfully, all that is old news, Lionsgate has nearly righted the ship with their new Blu-ray transfer supposedly taken from the original negative fot the first time ever. Interestingly, while Anchor Bay trashed the sequel, their recent Blu-ray of The Evil Dead is par excellence. We're talking in league as one of the top five transfers on the entire format worldwide. Needless to say such perfection has set the bar sky high for the rest of the series.

Does the new Blu-ray reached this superlative level? Not quite, about 95% there. The picture has been subjected to a little noise reduction, but not enough to produce smearing or destroy too much fine detail. The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer frequently has that expected dimensional pop, even in darker sequences, completely lacking in the previous Blu-ray. Color, brightness, and contrast has also been placed back to the proper levels we enjoyed before the Book of the Dead debacle. Eerie blue/gray hues and inky blacks dominate the transfer. It's not quite end-all reference Blu-ray quality; however, I'm not complaining since I along with most everyone figured we'd be stuck until Anchor Bay cleaned up their own trainwreck with another Blu-ray...maybe. The cheap asking price and excellent, format-exclusive 98 minute documentary from Red Shirt Pictures are only icing on the cake. I know this is already getting old for this series, but this one is definitely worth the upgrade considering the last two releases were unquestionably a step back. Evil Dead 2 is back, baby.
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Sunday, November 27

To THE DEVIL...a dollar...

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cut, crushed, and crinkled...beautiful.
Grabbed more tapes from the same yard sale detailed in last weekend's video with this beat-to-shit big box the crown jewel. This is the 1986 big box of The Devil (Xie mo) (1981) from Video City Productions played cool-as-a-cucumber when found for one dollar. One of the rarest and most desired big boxes released in North America probably because of its irresistibly crazy artwork. Unlike the widescreen Japanese VHS (experience the past drama here and here), this tape has been cropped to full screen, but shares the same English dub.

Check out the quick video below, this release appears to be uncut just like the Japanese tape upon first glance. Although I'm unsure whether or not the Japanese release is in its full 2.35:1 widescreen ratio when comparing it to this stateside tape. There doesn't seem to be the usual amount of heavy cropping from scope to full screen going on between the two. Or maybe the film's original aspect ratio wasn't that wide to begin with like the IMDB claims? Video City's tape looks to be from a different print as well, the Japanese release has none of the wild scratch damage seen in the opening scene below (the train shots are also much bluer).      

Saturday, November 26

Well, this simple LaserDisc player fix worked...again!

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Back in September I discovered this easy fix for my LaserDisc player's sluggish performance originally provided by LD aficionado Kurtis Bahr (thanks again!). After the repair my CLD-D503 was holding up but upon chance I found its "step-up", the CLD-D703, on eBay complete with original box, remote, and manual for just $120 two weeks ago.

I was antsy about the purchase, especially after a giant eBay screwjob on a severely damaged Betamax player several years ago, but it arrived last Tuesday packaged quite well and in excellent shape. Still the eternal pessimist, I figured it got heaved about so much during shipping that the tray or laser was knocked out of alignment. Amazingly, the unit spun up and played fine.

Although there were signs of the same problem. Upon "spinning up" the LD to play, a loud screech was heard and even after trying three different ways, the player simply refused to perform a "gamma turn" and flip the laser assembly over to play Side B. Instead of flipping, the disc would stop and the front panel would proclaim "End". At first I got miffed since the seller claimed the unit was 100% fully functional, but then I remembered the old fix.

This time the motor's rubber ring looked even worse than the 503 with something resembling caked white chalk filling in the textured surface before scrubbing. Breaking out the alcohol and Q-tips and performing the same operation much to my surprise resulted in success. The player didn't screech and didn't hesitant one bit to play Side B and then return to Side A when finished. It seems funny such a simple thing would hurt the player's functions so much.

The CLD-D703 is regarded as the second to best player Pioneer ever made outside of their ELITE series (it beats a good chunk of those though) and several esoteric Japanese players. It's only second to the CLD-704 which only additionally features a jack for Dolby Digital 5.1 audio through an external demodulator. I don't really care too much about that feature, LD Dolby wasn't very widespread being limited to the last several years of the format's existence. And you'd be lucky to find a demodulator for less than a hundred bucks.

I'm really after the stereo digital PCM tracks many LDs feature. The more basic 503 unit can play them, but only via stereo analog jacks, which means the digital audio is processed by the player and not my much more modern A/V receiver. The 703 has Optical Out and Coaxial jacks which send the raw PCM signal to a receiver for processing. The audio difference in terms of clarity and impact are very clear and I can finally understand why many old school LD owners say the format sounds better than DVD (True Lies sounds incredible!). Also LDs with uncompressed DTS audio can be sent through Optical to any DTS-decoding receiver just like DVD (don't have any DTS LDs yet).

Picture quality is also much improved over the 503 on all grounds. The image is sharper and cleaner, even when using the Zoom functions on my DLP. The video signal-to-noise ratio of the 703 is 51db and with each bump the picture quality increase is noticeable (the "best" best players reached 54db). I'd estimate the 503's ratio is around 48/49db (way fuzzier).

There's also "standard" and customizable "variable" DNR levels for both the luminance and chroma parts of the image. Noise reduction isn't such a bad thing with analog video like VHS or LD but I turned it off anyway. Regarding the construction of the 703, the mechanical end of the tray, laser assembly, gamma turn flip "cartridge", and entire outer case itself are identical to the 503. So if you have trouble in this respect it may pay off grabbing a cheap 503 off eBay and stripping it for parts. However the power, video, and audio boards are indeed different in comparison. Anyway, cool stuff!
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Thursday, November 24

HD DVD Player/Recorder Technical Spec Information

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HD DVD Player/Recorder Technical Spec Information
(click for player specs)

Several years ago while the HD format war was waging, I compiled a comprehensive specification sheet on a forum detailing every HD DVD player and recorder made before Toshiba called it quits. Unfortunately that forum has long since closed, but I had this entry saved ever since. It's not 100% complete; however, I took great pains to make sure the information presented is correct. Missing information would be greatly appreciated (just comment on that post itself). I'm figuring it's a good idea to post this publicly since many of these little details have already or will eventually be forgotten with time. By clicking on the picture above, you'll be transported back to 2008, on the day Toshiba officially announced HD DVD's demise.
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Wednesday, November 23

In lieu of actual content...

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Just ran across this great looking print of Nello Rossati's 1988 weird action/sci-fi/horror hybrid, Topline, starring Franco Nero and George Kennedy. This video looks way better than any version I've ever seen...

Tuesday, November 22

Some quick thoughts on The Boneyard (1991)

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A detective reaches out to medium with the ability to envision fragments of the another's past experiences from articles of clothing or belongings to help solve a unsolved case of three dead children. The only lead is a Chinese suspect babbling about his family harboring and guarding aganist a centuries old evil due to indiscretions of his ancestors. The medium, beleaguered by the emotional toll of her powers, begrudgingly accepts and an after hours visit to the morgue is made to help spur her visions from a lock of one of the victim's hair. After telepathically witnessing a ritualistic sacrifice, she soon comes to the realization the children aren't dead and are awakening. The three ghouls begin slaughtering the night staff and now those still alive have to find a way out.

Like other reviews of James Cummins' The Boneyard have pointed out, it's a film that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. The aspects you figure playing larger roles later on, the telepathy and Chinese mysticism angles, end up completely forgotten once the creatures begin reigning terror upon the living stuck in the facility's basement labs (dubbed "the boneyard"). That's fine since the programmer-grade screenplay and acting aren't up to snuff to make these interesting. For some reason, a crotchety Phyllis Diller (sans wig) and Three's Company's Norman Fell show up appearing game with Diller eventually gagging and barfing in a bathroom sink after force-fed a slimy chunk of zombie flesh. The IMDB states Alice Cooper and Clu Gulager were first sought for key roles and it's a safe bet an immediate improvement would have occurred if they would have signed on.

What saves this mish-mash from lingering boredom are the creatures. The three kid ghouls look fantastic being reminiscent of the thin beef jerky-skinned demons of Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (1995). They're a genuinely terrifying bunch that seem impossible to shoot at a bad angle. Plus Diller transforms into a towering, bug-eyed monster version of herself with her poodle following suit. So if you find yourself struggling through a needless monologue about suicide or telepathy just wait five minutes until the next tango with the freak beasts.

The Boneyard's identity crisis was actually reflected on the VHS cover above. There was a rental sticker now removed in the corner that denoted "DRAMA" until someone crossed that out and wrote in "HORROR". The VHS was also available in two covers, the black "horror" version pictured and a yellow "comedy" variant with the zombified poodle (as seen on the DVD's cover). It's interesting to note Diller as she appears on the horror cover isn't seen as such in the movie.

Monday, November 21

Here comes fuckin' INTRUDER, walking down miles ahead of its release date...

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Synapse Films appears to be shipping their upcoming Blu-ray/DVD combo of Scott Spiegel's Intruder well ahead of its official December 13th release for those who pre-order via their site.

I ordered mine last Monday and received it today (even had to sign for the package). According to Don May over on Facebook there are still copies left that include a VHS-sourced DVD-R of the workprint, that's some eight minutes longer, and until sold out the pre-order's denotation of "+BONUS DISC" will reflect that. Kentai's Films also received their pre-order early and posted screenshots from the Blu-ray which look great. Wizard's prior DVD definitely can't compete.   

From some old thoughts: "There's something quite zen about this low-budget, late era slasher from many of those responsible for The Evil Dead. Maybe it's the night shoot or the quiet grocery store locale. Whatever it is, even as the killings begin, the proceedings have a pleasant calming effect. It's like hack n' slash yogurt; sweet, to the point, and easily digestible for even the most ardent of non-slasher fans."
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Sunday, November 20

Video: This Weekend's Swap Meet Haul...

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Saturday, November 19

The Incredible Melting Man (1977) - 1985 RCA/Columbia International Video Japan VHS

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It's funny how our tastes evolve and how sometimes mood and setting is vital to how one "takes in" trash such as this. For the longest time, even after repeated sit downs with Melting Man, I fucking flat out hated it. Oddly in hindsight I can't explained why; however, I've come to see its charms after becoming acclimated with similar crap. It's a little cult film that self-proclaimed cult flicks of today painfully style themselves after to achieve a new-found lattice of contemporary grindhouse (i.e. - sell more DVDs with crazy ad campaigns!).

For such a gratuitous premise of an gamma-struck astronaut returning to Earth only to actively body melt and murderously freak out, there's an innocuous sensibility to the film. This might be from the bittersweet perspective of the melting man who can't control his actions and increasingly becomes alienated (frankensteined?) from society. The Saturn sunburned freak roams the countryside after rampaging out of a hospital to attack bystanders, reflect on shattered memories, and look in a such a bad way that the toxic waste punk from Robocop would give pause.

Still, despite the wondrously multi-colored gore from Rick Baker, The Incredible Melting Man smacks of something you could actually watch with little ones of a certain age. There's little here that's played for genuine shock value, which sounds crazy considering there's a guy literally liquifying before our eyes. To put the movie into kid terms, it's akin to a playing with Gak slime or Trash Bag Bunch toys. It's stupid icky fun that could have only been made in an era long time past. This VHS's extremely amount of dirt, scratches, splice marks, and reel change blobs only help the experience. Love the cover art as well!

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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