Sunday, December 29

Some quick thoughts on Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)


Picking up shortly after the events of the first film, Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) start anew with their children in the home of Josh's mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hersey). Amidst lingering questions over who, or what, killed Elise (Lin Shayne), it becomes clear the family is still under otherworldly threat. Only an unexplained occurrence buried in Josh's past can save them, as the malevolence targets Josh himself to serve its own dastardly ends.

Back when Insidious was fresh, I wrote this review proclaiming the film a "sign of health in modern horror." Repeat viewings have only strengthened this praise, but its positive qualities simply don't carry over in this ho-hum, but amazingly box office successful follow-up. It's surprising this sequel has an association via director and lead to the vastly superior The Conjuring (2013), review here, released theatrically a short time prior. Although director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell aren't entirely to blame. A potential sea change in this brand of horror could be the cause of this follow-up feeling too overfamiliar.

Despite its intriguing premise, Insidious 2 is too self-indulgent, rolling out vital twists without much more consideration than any of its other beats. Insidious geared itself toward a grand reveal of a parallel spirit dimension and this build toward something so ominous greatly helped smooth over the film's issues with barreling through finer details. There's nothing that mysterious in this sequel which, even if the film was on par with the first, would relegate it to feeling smaller. The biggest reveal, again played out with little sense of importance, just leads to the narrative messily skipping across dimensions and timelines. And not to get too into spoiler territory, but Lin Shayne does make an appearance only for her character's vast knowledge and circumstance to be completely wasted.

The most chilling scene, Barbara Hershey's Lorraine recalling a brush with an apparition while working as a hospital nurse, is also the simplest scare illustrating the "less is more" mantra that made the first film more effective. It's not uncommon for a sequel to branch out, but the story soon bloats, becoming laughable at times, causing any concern for the characters and unsettling atmosphere to become muddled. Insidious did a fantastic job of straddling this line, never quite becoming so far-fetched as make one become very aware they're sitting in front of a horror movie. So in a very "theatrical horror show" sense this sequel succeeds, though you'll probably likely forget about it soon afterward much like other labored ghost flicks in recent years.

One of the best horror films of 2013, The Conjuring, is really to blame for my sour reaction to Insidious 2. By that's film's precise simplification of the poltergeist formula, Wan's effort here feels antiquated in all its bloat. It'll be interesting to see how things shake out between the eventual sequels of both series. If Conjuring 2 keeps up the quality and beats Insidious 3 to the box office, the third coming of "The Bride in Black" might perform significantly less if it continues this over-the-top routine. Of course, this 6.8 IMDB-rated sequel made a shit pot full of money, so what do I know? If you're a fan of the first Insidious, best remain content considering it as a standalone and view The Conjuring as James Wan's logical evolution. Just pray the recent news of three Conjuring spin-offs doesn't mar that series.

Friday, December 27

Second Update on Happinet Japan's Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray Box (w/ screenshots!)



(click for full size, not zoomed or resized)

Thanks goes to my buddy Christian for the quick work with these screenshots comparing all three versions across four Blu-ray editions (US/UK/JP/FR). Tentatively based off these few captures, it looks like Happinet Japan has stepped up and surpassed the previous Theatrical Version Blu-ray offerings (JP marks the first-ever Extended Version Blu-ray). Here's my impressions based off these shots:      
  • Theatrical Cut: Both Anchor Bay US and Arrow Video UK (darker contrast levels) are from the same master, probably originally made for Anchor Bay's 2003 DVD. 
  • Theatrical Cut: Both the US and UK suffer from excessive digital noise reduction (AB more so), automatic scratch correction, and digital artifacts from weak encoding.
  • Theatrical Cut: The Happinet JP doesn't have these problems and exhibits damage (perfectly fine trade-off in my opinion), but is zoomed-in a little on all sides while bumping out the widescreen aspect ratio to 1.78:1. It also might suffer from some blown out contrast, note the intensity of the light above the biting zombie. However; color, overall contrast, tonality, and detail look clearly improved. Finally!
  • Extended Cut (Japanese): Based off the one capture provided, it appears to be virtually identical to the Japanese Theatrical (at least with regards to framing).
  • Argento Cut: Both the French and Japanese sadly appear to be identical with grid-like mosquito noise (not grain). The Japanese is a bit more detailed with the noise level and has better contrast.

Update on Happinet's 35th Anniversary Dawn of the Dead Blu-ray Box from Japan

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EDIT: Just ordered the Theatrical Version Blu-ray from Amazon.jp, so of course I'll do a follow-up with impressions!

Here's an update to this September entry detailing Happinet's plans to release a three Blu-ray set of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) back on December 3rd. That date slipped to the 20th, and I've just started to see images from Japanese collectors getting their copies within the last week. The images below are from catalina.blog.so-net.ne.jp.

Initial reports indicate generally good quality of all three high definition transfers, some are stating the Theatrical Version just looks fair, but I haven't found any screenshots to get a better gauge. The back specs do confirm all three versions being 1080p HD encoded with MPEG-4 AVC with all featuring English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (w/ 96kHz upsampling) and 2.0 tracks. The supplemental material is still skimpy with mostly theatrical trailers/teasers previously available on Anchor Bay's DVDs and Blu-ray.

Although if the image quality of the transfers is great, advertising claims "state of the art" restorations, then this set will certainly be worth picking up. There's certainly room for improvement beyond both the Anchor Bay and Arrow Video UK Blu-rays. Regardless, this set's packaging is fantastic, reminiscent of Bandai Emotion's stunning silver "Perfect Collection" LaserDisc set from 1995 (seen here). The Blu-ray cases also appear to be the thicker, more conventional DVD style not seen stateside. I'll keep abreast of information and screenshots, but I'm waiting before ordering until hearing more definitive word. Check the first link above for Amazon.jp and CDJapan seller links if you're bold enough to order straight away.

Saturday, December 14

Some quick thoughts on Jungle Rats (1988)


Rom Kristoff leads a squad specializing in underground tunnel combat back into Vietnam to rescue several POWs, including jungle action veteran Mike Monty, after the war's official conclusion.

There's something innocent about these cheap Rambo echoes from the late '80s. It's hard to fathom there being a market for these even back when these were fresh. I can only figure the only target audience for this very niche brand of war flick, especially nowadays, is wannabe veterans or those that those that grossly inflate their service simply to impress others that also don't have very discriminating cine tastes. In that respect, these old flicks are like those old guys in that they're usually harmless with their bullshit stories, yet you can never really expect too much from them.

As far as these Philippines-lensed war actioners go, Teddy Page's Jungle Rats is fairly generic. The team assembles, engages in skirmishes with Vietcong, rendezvouses with a female defector, encounters more micro battling, gets a bead on the prisoners, and a finally climatic blow-up ensues. With its story being your standard POW rescue, the many goofy details outside the plot become the reason to keep watching. In the initial capture of the soldiers, flashbangs are indiscriminately fired at scattered American fighters that somehow magically explode exactly about two feet from each of them. We're introduced to the team, all with goofy nicknames (Boom-Boom, Batman, Blackstar), and despite being all decked out to remain hidden in the green inferno, one wears a bright blue baseball cap for reasons beyond comprehension.

There's also an intense scene in which a landmine is defused with its would-be victim still standing on it. Kristoff then stands back and detonates it since naturally loudass explosions aren't a dead giveaway to enemy forces potentially nearby. After finally reaching a few tunnels over an hour into the movie, one of the supposed experts in underground warfare whines about it being so dark. In the concluding battle, apparently short wild sprays of machine gun fire can accurately strike and kill ten-to-fifteen Vietcong soldiers at a time. Just some of the crazy oddball aspects that constantly remind your brain to remain shut off.

(From Nanarland's Phantom Commando review)
There's two last tidbits of note concerning Jungle Rats. Director Teddy Page and writer/co-star Jim Gaines (pictured) had a professional partnership spanning the decade with several jungle brawlers. So curiously Gaines' character nicknamed "Killer", a misfit soldier that constantly goes over the head of his commander, is by far the most fleshed out even trumping Kristoff's one dimensional lead. Yet still, like everything else here, don't expect anything more than a poorly written take on the token stereotypical asshole seen in many other war pictures.

Concerning the soundtrack, much of it is actually Jack Trombey from the De Wolfe collection of library music, even the two Trombey pieces heard in George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) are played several times throughout. I thought I was hearing things when same music from Roger struggling with his rifle with zombies nipping at his boots in the truck barricade sequence played over the team's first descent underground. Neither as fun as Bruno Mattei's Strike Commando (1987) or as ridiculously over-the-top as Ignazio Dolce's Commander (The Last American Soldier) (1988), Jungle Rats isn't one to watch as a first experience, but you'll want to track it down once becoming acclimated to these meat n' potatoes 'Nam-fueled actioners.

Friday, November 22

Some quick thoughts on Dead in Tombstone (2013)


Betrayed and brutally slain by his own outlaw gang over control of a town, Guerrero (Danny Trejo) descends into Hades for his sins, but strikes a deal with Satan (Mickey Rourke) to trade the six souls of his murderers to save his own from damnation. Resurrected yet very much mortal, the black angel digs himself forth from his earthen tomb to exact vengeance, but he only has twenty-four hours to kill 'em all...

Before tearing into this dog, I must thank the kind folks over at HorrorTalk.com for the opportunity to win this Blu-ray combo. Upon receiving it a few days ago I was at first was baffled before realizing I had entered their contest! You'll soon see that my review isn't colored from the pleasant surprise of actually winning something for once.

Danny Trejo in an action "horror western" was an inevitability, but the Western genre is deceptively complex. To produce even a "decent" example a convincing drama needs to be constructed around punctuated violence. The screenplay, penned by the duo behind the awful killer clown slasher Drive Thru (2007), instead strings along action sequences with scattered bits of shallow exposition. In that respect, Dead in Tombstone succeeds and shows how well a measly five million dollars, and major studio backing, can be utilized. The Deadwood aesthetic is in full effect with a western town backlot and actors drenched in that unnatural "readymade rustic" grit. Frenzied editing hampers most nuance of the camerawork, but the sound design is extremely impressive and the film never once sounds its low cost.

Trejo seems well aware he can phone-in these DTVers with his now widely recognized marquee and unique badass visage. So the veteran actor doesn't even try beyond mumbling one-liners with his more expressive lines coming off totally unbelievable. Hearing him act surprised at his gang's betrayal or the realization he's in Hell actually provokes chuckles. He's definitely no Bronson.

The supporting cast is sketchy as well with Mickey Rourke lumbering along looking like he's given up on himself in a boring turn as Beelzebub. Anthony Michael Hall appears as the gang's new leader responsible for Guerrero's murder, and while not given much, his grizzled performance makes one wish he were in Trejo's role instead. Dina Meyer, the only actress to appear besides some background boobs, provides a thankless performance as a shorn woman out to avenge the murder of her husband at the gang's hands.

Finally, there's a few weird odds-and-ends like the story never making the effort at a redemption arch for Guerrero. He's just a nicer shade of scumbag that instructs his gang to limit collateral damage. Nice guy, eh? Satan is apparently a dumb yet trustworthy emperor of the damned, failing to realize the gang's souls are already condemned before making the deal and ultimately granting Guerrero's life back.

The film makes a point of showing us Guerrero's dual three-barreled engraved revolvers (pictured), but we only see him use a single Smith & Wesson Model 586. A revolver of precisely machined parts introduced over a hundred years (1981) after this film's depicted time. Way to go, prop master. Also unexplained is Rourke obviously being dubbed by a voice actor for the entire scene of Satan's deal with Guerrero, only for his natural voice to appear in later scenes.

Unless you're a Trejo diehard or hate Westerns, it's safe to pass on this made-for-Redbox quickie. Although billed as a "horror western", the only thing horrifying is how much of a wasted opportunity this represents. More consideration toward Guerrero's internal plight and maybe even a lack of Trejo as lead could have resulted in one of the best low budget Westerns in years. Instead Dead in Tombstone feels spearheaded by a pair who believe gunfights and explosions are the only thing the genre is good for.

Sunday, November 17

Some quick thoughts on All Hallows' Eve (2013)


A young babysitter (Katie Maguire) on Halloween discovers an unlabeled VHS slipped into one of the kid's trick or treat bags. Hesitant to watch, the contents are reveled to be a horror movie of several stories involving a terrifying clown, but the more she watches the more an intense sense of something unwanted lurking about permeates the house.

Built around two of writer/director Damien Leone's prior shorts, The 9th Circle (2008) and Terrifier (2011), his debut feature All Hallows' Eve might prove the anthology the wisest approach for agreeable indie horror. This kind of storytelling's resurgence in the genre could be indicative of filmmakers realizing the advantages of the format especially when tackling projects on a shoestring. Everything can be streamlined to save precious money, and to the benefit of the viewer, if a particular tale gets stale just wait a few minutes and another will begin.

Although All Hallows' Eve is a bit different since Leone had the ingenious idea of mining a feature through the use of his two already completed shorts. The babysitter wraparound and sci-fi tinged second story are new with the shorts respectively serving as the first and third. Without giving anything away, all three stories are straightforward with understandably little involvement with the wraparound. Due to the meager budget, everything moves with brevity so it's not advised to expect the second coming of Trick 'r Treat (2007). Even Steve Sessions' ultra cheap Cremains (2001) exhibits a greater degree of creativity in each of its yarns. That's not to say they're bad, just nothing new done well enough to hold interest with a surprisingly effective score by new retro wave artist Noir Deco (listen here).  

However, the one constant, Art the Clown (Mike Giannelli), is terrifying. Leone, who also provided the make-up effects, gives the character gaunt, almost alien-like features while Giannelli's silently gleeful performance imparts the murderous force with much untapped potential. The swiftness of this anthology helps the character only become scarier as there's zero hint of his origins or reasoning behind his methodology. Sure, there's quite a few psycho clowns roaming the horror landscape ever since Pennywise left his mark, with most being awful, but you'll be left wanting as the credits roll.

That's ultimately a nagging aspect to All Hallows' Eve, it's like a test run by a filmmaker ironing out the kinks of venturing into his first feature. That's not a slight, Leone clearly shows an ability to stage frightening sequences along with building atmosphere and Art the Clown has the legs to perhaps become a recognized future slasher figure. Thankfully, according this interview over at HorrorTalk.com, Leone is planning a conventional sequel with a focus on Art. Given this film has landed on Wal Mart shelves, it'll receive a fair amount of undeserved criticism from such exposure, but if you want to experience a burgeoning talent and his creation that could both go somewhere in the genre give this one the time, preferably after midnight.

Friday, November 15

Halloween's 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Has Shed That Damn Cardboard!

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This might seem like a small detail, but I knew I'd pass upon finding out Anchor Bay's recent 35th Anniversary Halloween (1978) Blu-ray came packaged in a cardboard digi-pak that housed the disc in a freakin' envelope. Blu-ray does have a hardcoat meant to resist scratching (and protect an incredibly sensitive data layer), but after years of collecting the DVD format, I still get antsy over the prospect of disc contact. Inevitably the disc will receive a degree of wear, especially over repeated viewings if slipped in and out of its sleeve. Not to mention every copy I spotted in-store had dings to the cardboard.  

So this regular Amaray case release stuck to my hand until bagged when spotted at Best Buy today. There's an identical steelbook edition released by Anchor Bay in the United Kingdom; however, I personally don't care much about going out of the way to collect esoteric and rare BDs. This standard case release also might indicate the digi-pak being a limited run, so if you're a collector snatch one up soon. It may not be as eye-catching, but I'm glad to slip it next to the slew of other releases of this classic in my collection.              

Wednesday, November 13

Some quick thoughts on Fallen Angels (2006)

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IMDB synopsis since it's apparently written by the director: "When a turn of the century prison is slated for demolition, a grisly discovery is made. Hidden deep beneath the west cell block is a structure that has not been entered in 100 years. Inside are the skeletal remains of brutally slain children. As a CSI team arrives at the prison, an even more disturbing discovery is made that will unveil a legion of seven demons, each responsible for one of the seven deadly sins."

Ever since seeing Jeff Thomas's 13 Seconds (2003, review here), his unfairly maligned debut; I've wanted to review his second feature, Fallen Angels. Truth is, I bought the DVD soon after writing that old review, and literally fell asleep in the middle of watching. Nothing like endless dialogue to kill a horror all-nighter.

If only the little plot outline above were that simple. There's a big slug of exposition marbled throughout that makes the experience a real grind. That's not to say cheap horror shouldn't reach for depth, but all the boring conversation never leads anywhere as you squirm in your seat. Given the budgetary strain this production plainly exhibits, like some of the primary characters never interacting directly, frivolous details like a missing girl, a mysterious eighth demon, a string of ritualistic murders, and the lead detective's loss of faith were added just pad to ninety minutes.

Despite being a failure, it's still strangely interesting for its parade of familiar cult faces (check out the impressive cast list). Although most of those actors only pop in for a few brief moments. That is except for Michael Dorn and Bill Moseley who get a little more time to talk (and talk) as fellow detectives on the case. Dorn and his powerful voice seem to be composing a showreel for a future stint in a police procedural. Moseley instead does his best and manages to have one of the more memorable scenes that echos the "ball scene" from The Changeling (1980).

Alone in the prison, Moseley is seen leafing through some crude satanic illustrations when suddenly one depicting a demon waving flutters into his lap from above. He crumples it up and tosses it into a corner, but a few seconds later the same drawing again floats down from nothing. Looking over he sees the piece he just discarded missing and promptly gets up to leave with a perfectly said "time to go". Kevin McCarthy and David Hess also both provide well-delivered monologues on Christian theology. Which is eerie considering their deaths a few short years later. Reggie Bannister shows up with shades of the sly Reggie from the Phantasm series that lead his police officer to slaughter by a demon representing Lust.

Aside from the recognizable cast, Thomas exhibits a nice handle on staging creepy sequences but the story is sleep-inducing as told. Direction also flounders with many claustrophobic close-ups of actors talking with a slow motorized zoom. This very abused effect, that I assume was meant to impart tension, becomes extremely irritating. From these problems, the entire film feels compartmentalized, as if shot in bits at different times around actor schedules, and like 13 Seconds too much talk bogs things into boredom. Maybe the core issue is such specialized casting taking away funds from other more important aspects? It's great to see these actors get work, but was it worth the expense of the movie's basic entertainment value?

Finally, concerning Fallen Angels' preachy religious message, it's interesting Thomas's latest feature appears to be an unabashed Christian drama. So this could mark his final horror film and might be unique to the genre for having such positive outlook on faith. The first Christian gore flick (discounting Mel's Passion). A few years ago Thomas promised a new director's cut, but I can't find any mentions now. As it stands, I'd choose 13 Seconds as the recommendation, but don't blame me if you instead choose Fallen Angels and fall asleep with the TV on.

Thursday, November 7

Some quick thoughts on The Executioner, Part II (1984)


Bad movies are great, except when they're actually bad, and James Bryan's Executioner Part II is definitely that. Snapping into the very definition of "z-grade", this cobbled together mess was fashioned purely as an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of James Glickenhaus' The Exterminator (1980). It's a feat unto itself something so shitty could come from an ultra cheap melding of that rough-hewn exploiter and Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976).

Christopher Mitchum, one of the sons of the infinitely more famous Robert Mitchum, "stars" as a detective on the case of a mysterious assailant in army fatigues and black mask brutally murdering street thugs by kicking the shit out of them and then stuffing live grenades down their pants. Meanwhile, a frumpy young virgin drawn into prostitution out of drug addiction eventually crosses paths with the Executioner's bodycount. Mitchum finally discovers the vigilante is an old 'Nam buddy that once saved his life, but is that enough not to bring him in? (queue the big still on the back cover for an obvious clue)

Okay, that sounds way better than this actual endurance test. Looking over the also-ran Mitchum's filmographyExecutioner II marks the exact point where his screen career was shot in the face. He could have literally instead stared at a wall for what his character adds to the story. More interesting is a declining, skin-like-glazed-ham Aldo Ray during his glorious acting twilight. The once immensely popular and talented actor known for his war pictures shows up for a couple scenes, fumbles all over flustered lines, and uncomfortably sweats in every shot. Non-actor Antoine John Mottet as the flashback nutter dispatching gang members turns in the "best" performance, but it's drowned out by the dubbing. In fact, except for a scant few scenes, the entire movie is laughably dubbed over.

Still, there might be a few morsels if you're a diehard (and thoroughly drunk) trash fanatic. The grenade kills consist of a sloppy cutaway to a stock explosion filling the frame...in widescreen(?!?). A female reporter that keeps hounding Mitchum has one of the worst Germanic accents in film history. White gang members sporting bandanas showing their total disregard for authority by being loud and hopping off walls. Terrible fistfights scored to swingin' porn music. A strange and total lack of nudity. Or an inept Taxi Driver-riffed climax of the Executioner saving the homely girl from imminent deflowering.

Otherwise, stay away if you want to save seventy-eight (or eighty-six) minutes of your life. Director James Bryan, best known for Don't Go in the Woods (1981), exhibits no zeal despite the fun that could have been mined from such a cheap piece of crap. Overall, The Executioner, Part II is something you'd stop watching after twenty minutes if made today, but being from '84 and landlocked on VHS, you'll watch twenty minutes and then slam Fast Forward out of desperation. If you're still interested, Continental Video cut the movie down to seventy-eight minutes for their double feature big box VHS paired with an also chopped down Frozen Scream (1975). The scarce Japanese VHS above from MiMi Video presents the presumably uncut eighty-six minute version, only prolonging the head pain.

Saturday, November 2

Code Red's Just Before Dawn (1981) Blu-ray is up for Pre-order

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Update: That was quick, this and their Voices from Beyond (1991) Blu-ray have begun shipping!

Code Red DVD have decided to dip their toe into the Blu with Jeff Lieberman's great heyday slasher Just Before Dawn. Unlike the old Shriek Show SE with quite a number of edits, the 1.78:1 widescreen presentation is promised to be uncut for the first time on stateside digital disc. Also included will be an international extended version which I'm assuming might be the longer cut previously found on the now scarce British Odeon Entertainment DVD.

No word yet on whether both versions will be presented in high definition. CR's limited Blu-ray is available for pre-order here with a tentative date of "when it's finished". It's still unclear how many copies this release will be limited to, but a single press run is usually about three thousand. As always support Code Red (they're basically just one guy), and I'm sure this release will live up to expectations, fingers crossed!

Five friends set out for a weekend camping excursion, to drink, frolic and skinny-dip on an isolated piece of land one of them has inherited. Despite ominous warnings from local forest ranger (GEORGE KENNEDY, AIRPORT, DEATHSHIP), strange backwoods families, and a hollering drunken hunter (Mike Kellin, SLEEPAWAY CAMP) claiming to have witnessed his friend’s evisceration by the hands of "Demons", they trek further into the foliage.

Beautifully shot, extremely eerie, and with a horrifying twist that will make you wonder...Will any of them survive those dark hours Just Before Dawn? Starring Gregg Henry (MEAN DOG BLUES, RICH MAN POOR MAN), Deborah Benson (SEPTEMBER 30, 1955), Jamie Rose (TV's LADY BLUE), Chris Lemmon (TV's THUNDER IN PARADISE), and Ralph Seymour (UNDERGROUND ACES). CODE RED proudly presents JUST BEFORE DAWN painstakingly restored from the original 35mm internegative.


Thursday, October 31

Some thoughts on Scream Factory's Day of the Dead (1985) Blu-ray

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Originally, I was planning to write a little about George A. Romero's Day of the Dead, but you're probably already aware of its positive attributes. It was one of the first horror movies I remember seeing on my weekend tape rental raids back in middle school. I loved this sequel from the first sitdown, with no knowledge of the ever-diminishing baggage it carries with longtime Romero fans, and see it as equal to Night and Dawn while furthering the commentary in much bleaker terms for mankind. Of course, back then my thirteen-year-old self just thought it was the most freakin' awesome/goriest zombie movie ever.

So naturally I've bought every subsequent U.S. video release starting with Anchor Bay's first DVD release from 1998 (roughly a year after the format debuted). What seemed like several long years later, yet only 2003, AB released their two-disc "Divimax" DVD edition. While most lavished praise upon the disc's picture quality, I found colors looked far too washed out even compared to the vintage MEDIA VHS. Then in 2007; shortly after the Blu-ray format debuted, AB released the film in their initial BD rollout. Despite again receiving praise, the picture still seemed too drab and any jump in detail or color was negligible over the standard definition Divimax presentation. It was also obvious the same HD master created in 2003 was simply brought to Blu-ray years later.

Finally this past September, Scream Factory released their Collector's Edition Blu-ray, promising a new 1080p transfer derived from a fresh telecine of 35mm materials. Now, despite this effort, some supposed videophiles are still bitching about the transfer. Claims have been bounced around about the prior dull color scheme of Anchor Bay BD being more "accurate" while others discount the SF transfer entirely due to very slight vertical stretching of the picture (which looks more proportionally correct in my opinion).

I'm not going to blindly blow Scream Factory, they have their share of just fair looking titles, but they've finally rectified what was an ultimately weak effort from Anchor Bay. The color has been brought back, sometimes maybe a touch too much, but the prior AB transfer was too bright and so desaturated the picture simply looked lifeless and flat. The improved color of the SF helps heighten the sense of depth, clothing especially exhibits this, and clarity from a lack of digital filtering, which the AB was caked with, is so great you can sometimes see the make-up on the actors. It's not a perfect presentation, the compression could be better for those with giant front projection set-ups, but this new Blu-ray is no doubt a step-up visually.

The sound quality is a complicated story. It's well known the Anchor Bay DVD and BD suffer from several (small) edits to dialogue and sound effects. These were mistakenly made during the creation of 5.1 mix for the Divimax release. This surround mix was accomplished by taking several sources of the original monaural (or "1.0") and separating the dialogue, foley (sound effects), and John Harrison's score into individual "stems" and then mixing these together with care in staging certain sounds around the five audio and subwoofer channel (or "5.1") soundfield to create a "true" surround sound track. The unfortunate edits were in the best available source for the dialogue stem and went unnoticed during the mastering of the 5.1 track.

The Scream Factory BD doesn't include this surround track, instead opting for the original monaural sound that doesn't have these edits, but there's a trade-off. This 1.0 track, despite being presented in lossless DTS, sounds noticeably worse than the Anchor Bay disc. Dialogue is often very harsh and limited in range, especially Lori Cardille, and there's a constant low background hiss that's completely absent in the AB mix. There's even several pops in the audio similar sounding to a vinyl stylus crackling over a dusty groove. The dialogue in the AB mix clearly sounds more spacious with nearly no raspiness. The overall audio experience is also preferable with the Anchor Bay. It's one of the better mono into surround upmixes with zero unoriginal effects added. So the choice is yours, but it's easy to see most choosing the Scream Factory for the lack of edits. That still doesn't change the fact it usually sounds worse than a VHS.

Although if you have the Anchor Bay Blu-ray and don't love Day of the Dead, you can probably stick with it. But fans are going to want to check out this new Scream Factory edition. The new BD also includes an brand new eighty-five documentary, produced by Red Shirt Pictures, entitled World's End: The Legacy Of Day Of The Dead. This great look into Day manages to be the one golden supplement this film really needed. Many cast and crew members are interviewed with every production stage explored with a satisfying focus on the actors. Interestingly, the film clips in this supplement are taken from the Anchor Bay transfer (and the difference is clear). All of the other extras from the AB disc are included. I imagine in a few years a new super deluxe 4K Blu-ray will appear with even superior picture/sound quality, but for now this fan is definitely happy. Worth picking up.

Tuesday, October 29

Some quick thoughts on The Conjuring (2013)

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Always late to the party, I finally checked out James Wan's surprise theatrical phenom the other night and I'm hard-pressed to add anything new to the chorus of praise. The Conjuring intentionally hearkens back to the '70s possession spree, and like the best examples of that cycle, skillfully focuses on the ordeal in very human terms. Surprising considering the latest genre darling at the helm carved his name with power tools and butchered bodies.

The warm reception this throwback received globally speaks to this quality. Mainstream horror has recently become oversaturated with dwelling upon the immediate suffering of whatever the threat, be it ghost or monster or madman's trap, has chosen to attack with little concern for the psychological aftermath. The old "keep the blood runnin' down the screen" mantra.

That's not to say genre movies need to be after-school specials, but as proven by the most lasting horror staples, the easiest method to garner an audience's respect is through well-honed characters. Wan never lets attention stray from those often desperately trying to help, even in the most intense scenes of horror, rather than the obvious terror of the afflicted. This only makes the bond with reality stronger, as most have experienced the struggle of trying to help others in at least potentially serious circumstances, rather than dissolving into a scene of grisly violence probably alien to the average person. An defining aspect shared with The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976), and The Changeling (1980).

"...but we prefer to be known simply as Ed and Lorraine Warren."
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga do a tremendous job as the Warrens at humanizing people, a demonologist and a psychic, often portrayed on film as eccentrics. The pair ground their performances with the usual banter and stresses of a married couple as do Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston as the Perrons, the family under extraordinary circumstances. So the viewer, even dunderheaded tweens, quickly grow to trust their opinion even with their subtle religious methodology (likely to provoke debate for years much like The Exorcist).

It's also refreshing that while the Perron's children are targeted, they don't become the vessel of possession like many screen ghost stories have driven into the dirt in recent years. Of course, if this is all supposed to be true, that's not something that can be accredited to creativity. As a related aside, I've read negative comments solely predicated on whether or not the real Warrens or Perrons are being honest, if you're basing your opinion of the film on that, you're frankly stupid.

If there was a gripe, it's the demon witch ladies looking too typical of "old hags" with grey skin, frizzed hair, and runny mascara. Maybe that's just from years of listening to Art Bell with verbal depictions of the demonic entities being far more unsettling than wigged-out shopping cart ladies. Still, the scares are certainly there and Wan delivers an experience that'll actually creep you out by "the dead hour" far more than some TV show of teens with dowsing rods in green night vision. The Conjuring is one of those rarities that belongs to an elite group, playing off basic fears, that again re-establishes the staying power of the horror genre. It'll be a classic in short order.

Saturday, October 26

Great IFC "Best of Zombies!" 4-Movie DVD Pack at Target

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You probably already own one or more of these separately, but I just grabbed this solid four-feature DVD pack from IFC Films at Target (lurking on the bottom shelf). Best of all the price was only $12.99 but rang up $9.98 at the register. I can't find any mention of this set online and haven't cracked it open yet to check the disc count/extras (separately Dead Snow is a two-discer), but this title combination alone is well worth a measly ten bucks (or thirteen, mileage may vary).

Friday, October 25

Zombie Hunter (2013), Codeword for Everything Bad about Modern DTV Horror

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Well, nearly everything. If you've been following BoGD long enough, you're aware I'm not too hard of zombie flicks. As long as the actors suit their characters well enough and the action is fairly consistent, a given effort can still be highly entertaining even if story remains hunkered down in one location for the entire runtime. It's what one of the aspects of Romero's Night of the Living Dead that makes it so enduring to this day.

So there's no ill will toward Zombie Hunter for obviously being about zombies, even with popularity of the current mainstream zombie craze running on just three wheels and a snapped axle (outside of The Saga of Rick Grimes). Director, writer, and producer K. King's debut concerns a small band of survivors who've escaped to the desert expanse after a new drug turns much of the population into either undead shamblers or beastly "hybrids" that look directly ripped from the Resident Evil series (only rendered in terrible CG that looks much worse than what's the norm for TV commercials nowadays).

Okay, that doesn't sound too bad, the ol' dependable "fight for survival" set-up. Yet what makes this crowdfunded project so agonizing is its ridiculous overreliance on computers in post-production. Literally every gimmicky CG trick is used ad nauseum here. At first it seems like they're trying to create the now tired "faux-grindhouse" aesthetic, but it begins to feel like it's an attempt to make up for the many shortcomings on-screen. A couple of these instances in this tier of filmmaking are fine, but not so much that it becomes the core of the film. Since, you know, it's a movie and not a spastic music video. This flash gets so abused that it's amazing a real car was used to perform a real flip instead of some clunky 3D model for the high speed accident.

A great example happens early on when our hero, Hunter (Martin Copping), reflects on his lost wife and young child as he's cruising the badlands in his black 1987 Camaro SS. Instead of a quiet moment focusing on an actor doing his job, we mostly get an over-the-shoulder view of moving images of his two loved ones across his windshield. It's simply goofy, and like every other digital crutch leaned upon, pulls you right out of the movie. Maybe it's for the better since Copping, who happens to be Australian, has all the charisma of a completely monotone Mad Max once his mouth opens. At least a mostly shirtless Danny Trejo is used to good effect wildly swinging an axe through corpses in slo-mo. However; Machete's scant few scenes don't match the prominence he's given on the DVD cover...

This isn't enough to save Zombie Hunter. It's a soulless chore that's seemingly preoccupied with creating cool posters (and an end credit sequence) that display far more creativity than the actual product. This crap also proves horror fans should bitch about CG period and not just when it doubles as blood. And on that note, what all gore fans have lusted after, the zombie blood is a shade of screaming hot neon pink...?!?
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Wednesday, October 23

EVIL ED (1995) "Special ED-ition" DVD/Blu-ray (Potentially) Coming...

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Several years ago I posted this entry, Speaking of Evil Ed (1995), talking about Anders Jacobsson's gory Swedish import, Evil Ed, and how a newly assembled trailer advertising a special edition suddenly popped up on YouTube that looked uploaded by the director himself. Now it appears that he's trying to raise money to give his film, and his country's first ever splatter picture, deluxe treatment with a new DVD/Blu-ray.

As outlined below by Jacobsson over on the SE's Big Change kickstarter campaign below, there's hopes of a new HD telecine, a longer cut, and loads of extras. With two months to go to raise $30k, it'll be a tough road but here's to hoping funding can be procured. It's a great little send-up of the censorship woes genre cinema faces and clever homage to a plethora of horror classics. Not to mention the handful of previous DVDs being of rather poor quality and mostly out-of-print now (the two US DVDs and rated/unrated VHS are all cut too). There's also been a Facebook page set up for the project.

"Now it is time to refresh the old movie and re-scan the negative to High Definition. Our goal is to produce a special edition, with better picture and sound quality and lots of extra content:
  • Two never before seen scenes including a scissored foot, miserable disembodied head, and an angry wife.
  • A full 3 hour length documentary about the making of the movie, including interviews with the cast and crew and never before seen behind the scenes material.
  • A commentary track with the producers and the director.
  • A lot of deleted scenes, old promotional material (including old interviews from Swedish television, posters and trailers) and photos from the shoot.
We have wanted to make a complete and improved version of Evil Ed for many years, but it has been impossible due to lack of funding. No distribution companies are willing to take a risk by funding the project. Therefore we have decided to ask you, the fans, for help. With your support we can finally make the Ultimate EDition of Evil Ed. If our goal is reached all excess funding will go towards the creation of the spinoff Loose Limbs: The Anatomy of Fear, which is currently in pre-production."

Tuesday, October 22

Some quick thoughts on MANIAC (2012)


A young psychopath with mommy issues, Frank (Elijah Wood), cruises the city in his dingy serial killer van brutally murdering and scalping attractive women. Eventually, a photographer (Nora Arnezeder) befriends him out of interest in his vast vintage mannequin collection for her upcoming exhibition. It's only a matter of time...before this film is considered a classic of the horror genre?

Taken at face value (like the mostly jokey outline above), Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur's remake, directed by cohort Franck Khalfoun, of William Lustig's controversial 1980 grinder appears to wear everything on its sleeve. Two of the biggest "re-imagining" sins pop up almost immediately with elements only hinted at in Lustig's original expanded upon to the point it feels their being spoon-fed. And then an almost textbook stereotypical screen portrayal of a serial killer is strutted around like the ancient concept is groundbreaking. It's enough to make anyone whose seen a couple solid celluloid depictions of murderers gripe that it's just another dumbed down remake.

There's the danger of losing the audience Aja and Levasseur straddle with casting such a deceptively superficial light on Frank and his motivations. The pair take great pains in delving into his infatuation with the restoration of mannequins, once his family's business. This, and haunting memories of his brazenly promiscuous mother, feeds into his unstoppable quest for female victims to adore his life's work with. All of this is plainly spelled out in a compact narrative, much though Frank's own point-of-view perspective, that doesn't seem to make room for mystery or speculation. Yet throwing Maniac off as just another hollow serial killer outing that again tries to reinvent the wheel Norman Bates first began rolling would be in error.

Like their debut feature, Haute tension (High Tension) (2003), the writing pair have added a little climatic revelation that adds unexpected dimension to their main character. It's one of the few things not touched upon directly in the feature with the burden resting on the lead and Khalfoun to bring out with subtlety. And do they ever. Elijah Wood provides such a sense of nuance throughout, especially with regard to this twist, that his Frank rivals the iconic killers fashioned by Anthony Perkins in Psycho (1960), Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu in The Vanishing (1988), and Ted Levine in The Silence of the Lambs (1991). If Wood's performance wasn't impressive enough, the care at which he handles this additional depth only proves what seemed like curious casting a stroke of brilliance.

But this might go flying over the heads of those that view this Maniac as a simplified knock-off concerned only with matching the misogyny and bruality of the original. And while Lustig and Spinell's potent sledgehammer approach still carries impact, this remake outwits the rough caricature seen in 1980 by refining what made Frank so chillingly real. The much more focused exploration of what drives his murderous inclinations and outward meekness of Wood's Frank combine to make this one of the best horror films of the last few years. Maybe even hindsight might provide Maniac with the status of a classic of the genre in the future. It's only a matter of time...

Sunday, October 20

Check out this ingenious Japanese homage to Terminator 2!

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Recently browsing YouTube, I discovered this cool little segment from the 1992 edition of the Japanese variety special, New Year's Parlor Tricks Tournament (新春かくし芸大会). According the Japanese Wikipedia entry, the "best segment" competition show ran annually every New Years from 1964 to 2010. This short is sparse on dialogue with broad comedic touches and it's interesting to see how some of the then incredibly expensive effects were recreated on a nothing budget. They even managed to get a few seemingly unimportant details dead-on, like the neon "Corral Bar" sign being the splitting image of the one seen in the actual film. Some of T2's original score is utilized along with bits from Rambo and Aliens. If this segment ran feature length it would certainly count as one of the most curious cult exports ever from Japan!

Friday, October 18

Japanese SOV Gore Follow-Up: CONTON (獣神伝説 /Jūshin Legend /Chaos) (1987)

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Here's a follow-up to this entry from a few years ago detailing the adventure feeling my way through Takuro Fukuda's unsubtitled shot-on-video gore short, Conton (Chaos). I finally got a copy of the original VHS, the very same copy from Z-Grade referred to in that write-up (not for $150 though!), and not the DVD-R used for that entry. Like GUZOO, see here, this VHS is also distributed by ROCO Company Limited. Looking around I'm confident in stating this is ZEUS Video's only release.

Here's Z-Grade's write-up from the auction: Over-the-top JAPANESE GORE HORROR SHORT directed by TAKURO FUKUDA! / EXTREMELY RARE JAPANESE VHS LTBX RELEASE – NOT AVAILABLE ON DVD! / ZEUS/ROCO CO., LTD / This is a Genuine Factory Original Japanese Import NTSC VHS tape and it will play in all U.S. VCRs. Presented in JAPANESE LANGUAGE ONLY with no English language or subtitles. NOT RATED / SP MODE / NTSC / COLOR / 45m 42s

In the fine tradition of the GUINEA PIG series, we present to you this weird lesser-known Japanese horror gore gem. The story involves a young otaku (nerd) collector and sculptor who works part-time as a production assistant for a television studio. He has quite a few vinyl Ultraman figures on display in his room. Anyway, it seems as of late, he has been having a lot of disturbing nightmares of tall armor-wearing demonic creatures that wield hatchets. In real life, he is having a bit of trouble with the local yakuza...as it seems he owes some cash to a trio of thugs. As his stress level rises, and the yakuza begin harassing him at his every move, the two realities seem to collide. At one point, he even sculpts out the creatures he sees in his dreams. 

And this is where the fun stuff begins. For starters, how about when our sleep deprived hero upchucks green puke into the sink, which then mutates into a face with an alien-like extended jaw and teeth? A few crushed skulls and eyeballs are on hand (check out the cover art on this sleeve!!), as well as the requisite tentacles, a nice beheading, and the climactic twist ending including the transformation of our hero into something ungodly. Nice EFX, if a little cartoony, but slathered in goo, puss, and lots of bloody mess. This gory Z-Grade Japanese horror gem is one rare tape, so get to bidding cause it's the only one we have.

Saturday, October 12

Some quick thoughts on The Day of the Cobra (Il giorno del Cobra) (1980)

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Japanese VHS from MiMi Video (English/Full Screen)
Franco Nero stars as Larry "The Cobra" Stanziani, a weary private investigator resorting to tracking cheating spouses, who's offered an off-the-record job to take down a mysterious kingpin in Italy that ruined his police career years ago. Upon arriving in Rome, Stanziani is contacted by an powerful envoy and befriends a nightclub owner (Sybil Danning) for information, but he soon realizes no one can be trusted as his young son is targeted...

Much like the Italian rendition of Scorsese/De Niro, Enzo G. Castellari and Franco Nero have build their reputations through a multitude of usually great collaborations spanning their careers. Their first, and most pertinent to this review, partnership was the tremendous action crime film High Crime (La polizia incrimina la legge assolve) (1973). With parallels to Day of the Cobra, Nero stars as a brash police officer who becomes increasingly beleaguered in attempting to eradicate a drug ring with an unresponsive justice system. After his family falls prey, he realizes his relentless quest was all for not with his personal life in shambles despite supposed victory.

Image Credit: Atomic Caravan
This might be what ultimately hurts Nero's performance as "The Cobra". Stanziani's already nearly broken from the start and there's no redemption arch to make one care much about the character's plight. Instead, the story seems too preoccupied with laboring through familiar points with Nero's natural charisma and physicality in screen brawling barely keeping interest. It also doesn't help Stanziani suffers a bit from Kojak/Columbo syndrome of the period. Not to take anything away from those great television series, but Nero seems encumbered by little idiosyncrasies, like always chewing gum and wearing an unflattering tan bucket hat for most of the film. Those piercing blue eyes deserved better.

The Day of the Cobra isn't a bad effort, but it's too pedestrian when compared to better Castellari/Nero colabs. The sheer passion and scope of the aforementioned High Crime or Keoma (1976) is replaced by a lingering desperation to be too Americanized by "safely" going through the paces. Although maybe that can't be faulted with the popularity of the crime film beyond done in Italy and the entire film industry there beginning a long process of dwindling returns. Castellari, and maybe even moreover Nero, needed an international break and its a shame one never came for either.

Thursday, October 10

Friday the 13th (1980) - 1981 Warner Home Video Japan VHS

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Here's another recent acquisition, Sean S. Cunningham's classic Friday the 13th from Warner Home Video Japan. Unlike Paramount's stateside video releases, up until 2009's Deluxe Edition DVD, this VHS is the uncut version which Warner released in several territories long ago. The presentation has some print damage and a slight reddish hue, but these qualities aid in the experience. 

The language is English with small Japanese subtitles and there's a curious few lines of Japanese text that don't correspond to speech. In the beginning, as Annie is seen silently walking in front of town shops, some text in quotations appears with "Friday the 13th" (13日の金曜日) in Japanese. I can't read the language and originally my best guess was maybe the date not carrying the same superstition in Japan, but a quick Google reveals it's also known in that country as an unlucky date. This edition doesn't seem too scarce but it is very hard to come by in this completely unfaded condition and in its original baby blue vinyl Warner logo-embossed case.  

Wednesday, October 2

Some quick thoughts on The Murder Secret (Non aver paura della zia Marta) (1988)

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A family travels into the countryside to visit their aunt's home. Upon arriving, only Norman Ba...I mean the caretaker is present promising the woman will return the following day and that they can stay the night. It's then okay to fast forward or just eject the cassette afterward.

Yep, this is definitely one of the worst late era Italian potboilers I've ever sat down with. As the '80s wore on, the country's film industry was on the brink of a sea change which saw many once prolific filmmakers either being forced to adapt or essentially face extinction. Lucio Fulci, who oversaw the production with Mario Bianchi directing, obviously struggled valiantly through this period despite worsening health and diminishing career prospects. Sadly, The Murder Secret might typify everything awful about the product from this dark time.

With almost no money, talent (or woefully misused talent), and resources; most of these flicks either made the most of things and threw everything at the wall or resorted to merely filling time with a few done-to-death tropes. This Bianchi/Fulci effort chooses the latter as it's basically the Italian gore version of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). However; every opportunity to boringly drag to ninety minutes is taken, family members are finally slain one-by-one, the father (truly slumming Gabriele Tinti) finds their gruesome bodies, and the caretaker (truly slumming Maurice Poli) reveals himself to be the murderer while enshrining the dead aunt's corpse.

Oh, and there's a tacked-on twist ending that you've seen before and will likely piss you off more (recycled the next year in Fulci's superior House of Clocks). That's not to say there aren't endearing Italian schlockfests from the late '80s, but don't let the cheap gore shots fool you, The Murder Secret should remain a secret. Better off watching Fulci's strangely inventive A Cat in the Brain (Nightmare Concert) (1990) that jacked a couple quick murder clips directly from this junk.
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Sunday, September 29

Check out this new interview with yours truly over at HORROR SHOX!


I was just interviewed regarding my love for Japanese VHS by the operator of the Japan-based horror news/review blog, ホラーSHOX [呪] (Horror SHOX)! It's funny how connections like this are made. I actually bookmarked his blog long ago and visited regularly because of how cool it was to see an overseas horror blog so thoroughly devoted to keeping up on the global scene.

Then after finally joining Twitter a few months ago (@ghoulbasement), I began following several extremely friendly Japanese bloggers which eventually lead to finding tinker of Horror SHOX (@horrorshox). After seeing how passionate I am about collecting his native country's videos through his followers, he requested this little interview to which I was happy to oblige. He seemed shocked that Japanese VHS had acquired a collector market out of the country so that naturally led to questions. Thankfully along with also being very gracious he's quite fluent in English, so you'll find the questions and answers to be bilingual.

The rest in Japanese is basically his surprise in discovering such an interest in VHS, especially outside of Japan, and how he initially found out about me along with a few other U.S. collectors like Lunchmeat VHS and Video Vendetta. My Japanese VHS wishlist is also included with translated titles (if you any, please contact me!). And finally I'd like to personally thank tinker for the opportunity of the interview. Your love for the genre, along with many other horror fans in Japan, shines through and it's great to see that (and of course VHS!) can so easily cross borders and even cultural boundaries! Long live (Japanese) VHS!

Horror SHOX Interview

Friday, September 27

Zombie (サンゲリア) (1979) - 1985 Sony Video Software/Mount Light Video Japan VHS

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Here's another one of my recent addition, Japan's second video release of Lucio Fulci's fantastic Zombie (1979) from Sony/Mount Light released in 1985. The first Japanese video, from Toshiba as a glassbox (seen here), was actually the country's censored theatrical version entitled "Sanguelia" presented in cropped full screen. The opening "tell the crew..." scene is missing and all of the gore shots shift to a dark blue to obscure the blood/gore and then pop back into full color (see a sample of the color changes here).

So while the Toshiba is more a collector curiosity, this Sony fixed its issues by not only providing a fully uncut version, bearing the screen title of "Zombies 2", but also a 2.35:1 widescreen presentation (over a decade before the U.S. saw a widescreen video release). The color and clarity, especially being a mid '80s video, is surprisingly great. My HDTV has a zoom setting that can display non-anamorphic 2.35:1 material without picture loss and even zoomed-in the video quality isn't bad at all. The Japanese subtitles are even placed out-of-frame in the bottom matte bar with the image bumped up a little to accommodate. Definitely a kick ass and historically important VHS release!

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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