December 14th, 2013
Director: David Schmoeller
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Talia Balsam, Barbara Whinnery & Sally Brown
Released by: Scream Factory
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
The Criterion of Cult, Scream Factory, is back yet again to deliver fans with a much needed injection of some Empire Pictures goodness! The maestro of creepiness, Klaus Kinski (Nosferatu the Vampyre), takes center stage as a murderous landlord with an obsession of peeping on his female tenants. This supremely scary flick was helmed by David Schmoeller, responsible for other cult gems such as Tourist Trap and Puppetmaster. Curious minds want to know how well this Kinski creepfest holds up so let’s not dawdle any longer…
Crawlspace focuses on Karl Gunther (Klaus Kinski), a quiet landlord who happens to be the son of a Nazi. Gunther has an obsession with sneaking through the crawlspaces of his apartment building in order to spy on his female tenants. Gunther can barely contain his need to kill and with every new tenant comes a new object to fixate on. Will the arrival of a new female tenant put a stop to Gunther’s heinous acts or is the fun just getting started?
With such an abundance of films released, Empire Pictures was a well-oiled machine that knew how to keep horror fans occupied. Due to the scarcity of the film, I feel ashamed to admit that Crawlspace evaded me for so many years. Crawlspace is a criminally forgotten flick that hits all the right notes in sending chills down your spine. Klaus Kinski’s terrifying performance is what makes this film so appealing with his ice cold eyes and devilish grin. The decision to make Kinski the son of a Nazi adds a depth to his character unlike most madmen found in films of its ilk at the time. He has been fueled with a believable motivation that drives him mad to the point that only murdering can calm him. In order to settle the score with his conscience, Gunther constantly plays Russian roulette to give faith a chance to punish him for his sins. Another dimension to this maniacal character that made watching this film such a treat. When he’s not spying on his next set of victims, Gunther is devising weapons of torture amongst his pet rats and a female prisoner locked away in a cage. In addition, as the film reaches its finale, Gunther applies makeup that resembles Robert Smith of The Cure for an added level of weirdness.
As a product of its time, Crawlspace does right by the audience for including beautiful female actresses and some nice T&A moments for a tantalizing effect. Talia Balsam (The Kindred) and Tané (Death Spa) both make appearances in the film. Making great use of budget, Empire Pictures shot the entire film on an apartment complex set which works well and adds a nice claustrophobic layer. Pino Donaggio (Carrie, Blow Out) serves up an incredibly spooky score that sets a disturbing tone with its echoing chorus chants. Director David Schmoeller orchestrates the tight 80 minute runtime with suspense and precision that paved the way for more collaborations with Empire Pictures such as Catacombs and Puppetmaster. Crawlspace is a disturbing and creepy diamond in the rough that is driven home by Kinski’s frightening performance. The film’s breezy runtime leaves no room for shenanigans and keeps you firmly on the edge of your seat. To say that I enjoyed Crawlspace would be an understatement, this is a wildly entertaining flick that is without a doubt, one of Empire Pictures’ greatest accomplishments.
Scream Factory presents Crawlspace in a 1080p HD widescreen (1.85:1) transfer that looks remarkable. It surprises me just how good a film from Empire Pictures‘ canon translates to HD and in the case of Crawlspace, it truly shines. Colors, most noticeably in the red carpet in the apartment complex’s halls, comes across bold while nice detail is showcased in facial features with skin tones looking very natural. Instances of flakes and speckles are barely existent on this transfer that boasts clear black levels and a great filmic layer of grain. Another fine job by Scream Factory!
Crawlspace comes equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix that is very satisfying. Dialogue comes across clearly even at times with Kinski’s soft-spoken lines. Pino Donaggio’s haunting score really shines with intense scenes pushing the levels of the mix nicely. A rewarding audio presentation for such an effectively moody flick!
- Audio Commentary with Director David Schmoeller: Schmoeller touches upon the atmosphere and unique process of how Empire Pictures‘ films were created. In addition, Schmoeller doesn’t get shy when discussing the tense nature of dealing with Kinski who could be ruthlessly uncooperative at times. Originally, Kinski’s character was meant to be a Vietnam POW but Charles Band questioned whether audiences were ready for a film dealing with the war. The decision was then made to make him the son of Nazi which, to this reviewer, was far more effective. There are some dry spots to this commentary, but overall Schmoeller offers plenty of insight into the making of the film.
- Tales from the Crawlspace: An Interview with John Vulich: Makeup-Effects Artist, Vulich, sits down for an interview where he discusses his early career highlights traveling the world and working on Empire Pictures films. Vulich also touches upon his encounters with Kinski and hails them as an unforgettable experience.
- Please Kill Mr. Kinski: Director David Schmoeller’s short documentary film that details the unpredictable and intense temper of Kinski which resulted in several on-set physical altercations.
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spots
- Reversible cover
Crawlspace is a disturbingly intense and creepy flick thanks to the unforgettable performance of Klaus Kinski. There’s no denying that this film is one of the best offerings from Empire Pictures and one that has gone far too unnoticed throughout the years. The depth and insane motivations driven by Kinski’s character make this a film that will leave you questioning the late actor’s sanity. Scream Factory has accomplished another victory by resurrecting this frightening flick with a wonderful video and audio presentation as well as a satisfying assortment of supplements. For what it’s worth, winding down on a wildly successful year for the horror label, Crawlspace walks away as one of my most revered non-Collector’s Edition releases from Scream Factory to date!
December 14th, 2013
Stars: Nastassia Kinski, John Heard, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O’Toole, Ed Bagely and Lynn Lowry
Director: Paul Schrader
Released by Scream Factory
January 21, 2014 release date
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
There was a flurry of remakes of horror and science fiction titles in the eighties. The Fly (1958) with Vincent Price (“Help me!”) was remade by David Cronenberg’ in 1986 with Jeff Goldblum. Don Siegel’s 1956 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers got the make-over in 1978 (almost the eighties) with Donald Sutherland. Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby’s The Thing from Another World got a shorter title from John Carpenter in in1982 but an incredible tour de force of special effects and winter isolation paranoia. We also saw another Blob (1988), Invaders from Mars (1986) and even two of Roger Corman’s low budget classics got the treatment: Little Shop of Horrors (1986) and Not of the earth (1988). It inevitably begets the question how does it compare to the original. While most are just plain not as good, some are wonderful experiences that offer a lot to the viewer. Some of the good ones though, in all fairness should just be looked at on their own merits. You can’t compete with the forties or fifties films and vice versa. They are two very different animals, just like the sleek and sexy panthers in the forties and the ones in Schrader’s film far more explicit film.
Right from the start screenwriter Alan Ormsby (Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things) tips his hand with a sequence that shows panthers being transformed into cat people after having their way with human sacrifices. This is done in a strange psychedelic desert with cracked earth and dark fantasy colored skies. There is no mystery or seduction here. We move right into horror territory. When we meet Malcolm McDowell in New Orleans we know that he and his just arrived sister, Nastassia Kinksi are in fact two of these creatures. He’s totally aware of it going out on occasion to kill and dismember his sexual victims while she has no idea what she is in for. Ormsby and Schrader make up their own set of cat people rules that would allow a brother and sister to have safe sex without turning into panthers. That seems more than ok with brother Malcolm. Ms Kinski just oozes sexuality at every turn but it’s clear her character has no experience to draw from, only a developing carnality. When Malcolm’s desires get the better of him and he winds up savaging a prostitute in a hotel room, the local zoo staff tranquilizes him and takes him to the zoo which is where the bulk of the film takes place.
The zoo is a beautifully done set that combines the charm of old school statues and artfully shaped railings with a generally run down appearance. The gift shop with its cutesy stuffed animals sticks out like a sore thumb never belonging to the rest of the place. This is where John Heard who runs the zoo gets Nastassia Kinski a job. Heard plays the role with a boyish charm. He’s got a very at ease nature about him that makes him seem just a bit naive. He’s a marvel to watch in this film. Annette O’Toole (48 hours) is the second in command and apparently an old flame of his that she wishes to reignite. The first two thirds of the film works wonderfully as each of these characters establish their footing with each other. There is an awkward and compelling courtship between Heard and Kinski. They are both overly cautious an unsure. Schrader gets that right adding a nice shading to their budding relationship.
When the horrorific elements of the film move front and center the film looses something. Cat People delivers on the gore with plenty of bloody kills. The scene where Ed Bagely looses his arm to a caged panther is frightfully unnerving and very well done. There are transformation scenes that mine some of the same territory that The Howling (1981) and American Werewolf in London (1981) did the year before, though not to that extent. There’s nothing particularly wrong it’s just that Schrader and Ormsby now seem to be aiming pretty low. The last third of the film plays out with plenty of action and an intriguing ending coda. Schrader’s Cat People is a very entertaining ride. For me the establishing scenes and introduction of Kinski’s character to the zoo were just done at a higher level than the rest of the film. The animals in this film were all done with real jungle cats and they look spectacular. Every time we get to see them move whether in a cage or prowling around a hotel room, they are mesmerizing. Schrader does recreate the famous pool scene from the first film with Annette O’Toole. He also tips his hat to the legendary Lewton “bus” scare tactic. However he leaves a copy of a Yukio Mishima book on John Heard’s night table making it clear the kind of bedtime reading that Paul Schrader prefers. It’s a nice touch and certainly in place in this film, too.
Video – 1.85:1 This is an excellent transfer. There is plenty of detail, rich colors and deep dark blacks where they should be. However it’s the texture that really stands out. This blu-ray presents a very strong film like presence that is excellent throughout. There is a satisfying amount of grain. You can feel the sunshine on the film during the outside shots. Lovers of the theatrical film experience will get a real good taste of what was promised when blu-ray first came out as a new medium. Again this is a very impressive looking film.
Audio – 5.1 DTS and 2.0 DTS All dialogue is clear and in most cases supported with a realistic sense of room tone and presence. The music and effects tracks are fine. The David Bowie song rolls out across the end titles.
Extras – New interviews with writer/director Paul Schrader, Nastassia Kinaki, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O’Toole , Lynn Lowry and composer Giorgio Moored. Trailer, TV spot and Stills Gallery. McDowell’s interview is very entertaining. He reveals how they did the sequence where he leaps to a bed railing in one smooth very cat-like jump. We also learn the secret about the cats themselves from several of the interviewees.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Good / Excellent
December 13th, 2013
The Beast Within (1982)
Director: Philippe Mora
Starring: Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Paul Clemens, L.Q. Jones & R.G. Armstrong
Released by: Scream Factory
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
From deep within the swampy marshes of Mississippi comes a beast like no other! Scream Factory proudly presents, for the first time on Blu-ray, The Beast Within. A diverse cast of seasoned vets all guided under the watchful eye of the director of Mad Dog Morgan come together for this story of man becomes beast. After flopping at the box-office during its original release, a cult following has emerged over the years for this terrifying flick. It’s hard to believe that 30 years have passed, but does this beast still have what it takes to gnaw your soul? Let’s find out…
The Beast Within centers on Michael MacCleary (Paul Clemens), the offspring of a woman who was savagely raped by a swamp beast. 17 years have passed since the incident and Michael has grown into a fine, young man. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long before the inherited evil consumes him and forces his hand to feed amongst unsuspecting victims. The supporting cast is rounded out by Ronny Cox (Beverly Hills Cop), Bibi Besch (Tremors), L.Q. Jones (Casino) and R.G. Armstrong (Dick Tracy). Philippe Mora (The Howling II:… Your Sister Is a Werewolf) directs from a screenplay by Tom Holland (director of Fright Night and Child’s Play).
There’s no denying the similarities The Beast Within holds with the monster flicks of the 1950s. Even down to the title, The Beast Within feels like a 50s concept updated for a modern 1980s audience. In addition, like much of the golden era of monster pictures, some were entertaining, others missed their mark and some were just downright awful. The Beast Within falls somewhere in the middle. The film kicks off intriguing enough, albeit cliché-ridden, with newlyweds making a wrong turn before the wife is savagely assaulted and raped by a monster of some sort, deep within the woods. Shortly after, we skip ahead 17 years and learn that the teenage son of that couple is experiencing some abnormal changes. Michael MacCleary (Paul Clemens) has been holed up in hospitals as experts imagine he is on the verge of death. Nightmarish images haunt Michael before he awakes with a yearning to return to the town of his mother’s assault. From this point on, the film has trouble staying interesting. Sure, there are moments of Michael’s abnormal behavior returning resulting in the murders of several townsfolk but just as the going gets good, the film hits the brakes again. The film has issues staying afloat with a spotty narrative that leaves the viewer unclear as to what’s occurring at times.
While it seems harsh, there are plenty of quality merits that come along with The Beast Within. Les Baxter (The Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven) provides an incredibly haunting and satisfying score that sets a wonderful tone for the film. The supporting cast is littered with genre performers ranging from Ronny Cox (Robocop) to L.Q. Jones (director of A Boy and His Dog) giving it their all. Michael’s full-fledged transformation scene, which tediously takes the majority of the runtime to reach, pays off in spades. Special Effects maestro Thomas R. Burman (Halloween III: Season of the Witch, The Goonies) accomplishes a truly nasty and painful looking transformation for our leading actor which showcases Michael’s head blowing up realistically like a ballon. While, the final result of the swamp cicada-esque beast is quite laughable, it makes for entertaining eye-candy. Make no mistake about it, The Beast Within is not a bad film, it just never swayed me the way it has other cult enthusiasts. The film is filled with good intentions but spends far too much time digging itself out of a muddy plot that gets away from its fun concept. The Beast Within has its moments and perhaps one day I’ll view it as something greater but for the time being, it still falls somewhere in the gray zone.
Scream Factory presents The Beast Within in a 1080p High-Definition widescreen (2.35:1) transfer. The film looks decent with nice detail in facial features but black levels never reach their full potential. For a film with tremendous night scenes, there always seems to be a little too much speckling in the shots. Then again, this was a film that wasn’t shot on a tremendous budget which can be marked for most of the blame. In addition, exterior shots during the day appear to have a softness to them which can also be attributed to the amount of fog in said scenes. The Beast Within has never been a tremendously colorful film but the few instances such as Michael’s baby-blue varsity jacket pop nicely. While it seems mediocre, Scream Factory’s treatment is definitely an improvement on previous DVD editions and most likely the best the film will see for the foreseeable future.
The Beast Within comes equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo 2.0 mix that is quite sufficient. Dialogue comes across with no noticeable hitches while Les Baxter’s terrific score is striking and robust at particular key moments. The Beast Within is not a film with a grand sound design so there aren’t many standout moments that make this mix anything more than serviceable.
- Audio Commentary with Director Philippe Mora & Actor Paul Clemens: The two get along famously, at times even talking over each other in excitement. Both men discuss a variety of topics including Les Baxter’s wonderful score, shooting on location in Mississippi, the H.P. Lovecraft references found in the film and the studio’s insistence to tone the film down due to test audiences being too terrified.
- Audio Commentary with Writer Tom Holland: Moderated by Rob Galluzzo of Icons of Fright, Holland stays talky for the duration of the commentary touching on many different aspects including his unique origins of landing the job. Apparently, Holland was tasked with adapting the title of a book that was yet to be published. Oddly enough, the book wasn’t even published until after the film was released. Holland cites his references and nods to H.P. Lovecraft as well as the uniqueness of the story that he believes still feels fresh. The original failure and later rebirth of the film as a cult favorite has astonished Holland and he believes the film has aged well.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Radio spots
- Reversible cover
The Beast Within is the story of a man turned beast that originally tanked at the box-office before being re-birthed into a cult hit. The film consciously stays close to horror clichés and monster movies of the 1950s, but never manages to knock it out of the park in the long run. The effective score and genre-seasoned actors do a fine job with the task at hand. The transformation scene is the highlight of the film that is most impressive and unfortunately not as hailed when compared to other films of the time such as An American Werewolf in London and The Thing. The beauty of a cult flick like The Beast Within is that only a select grouping take the greatest appreciation from it. I’d like to consider myself an acquaintance of that group, The Beast Within is far from perfect but definitely has its fair share of entertaining moments. Without question, Scream Factory should be applauded for bringing yet another cult favorite into our HD libraries with sufficient visual and audio specs as well as informative and nostalgic supplements. Unleash your inner beast and add this into your Scream Factory collection now!
December 10th, 2013
Stars: Christopher Lee, Daliah Lavi, Tony Kendall, Ida Galli, and Harriet Medin
Director: Mario Bava
Released by Kino
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
As this film begins it is very reminiscent of the Edgar Allen Poe films that Roger Corman was making with Vincent Price over at AIP at the time. We have a very small cast. The film takes place almost entirely in one dank and brooding castle of an estate. It is also a period piece steeped in gothic atmosphere. The set design is spooky with plenty of dark corridors and flowing drapes for characters to peer around. There is essentially one exterior – the beach along the seacoast. And there is a deep family secret that gnaws at the souls of several characters. There are definitive similarities with Corman’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) and a few others. However the script delves into area of depravity that are doubtful AIP would be able to get away with.
The plot concerns a father living in this desolate castle with his much younger lover. His son is all set to marry a lovely woman. There are two servants. Christopher Lee (Dracula) plays the other son whose devilish ways drove the maid’s daughter to take her own life with a dagger. The dagger is kept under glass in a display that looks very much like the one that holds the magic rose in Beauty and The Beast. Lee as the bad boy of the Menliff clan returns. He is tall dashing, handsome and very threatening. In almost no time at all he has the bride to be thrown against the rocks at the shoreline. Under cover of the night he whips her bad enough to rip her shirt open and draw a good deal of blood. Only Nevenka seems to like this. Clearly they have engaged in this sort of thing before and have a sordid past together.
One night Lee is found murdered apparently stabbed by the very same knife that the maid’s daughter used, the one that is now missing form the glass case. Christopher Lee is the star and the stays in the picture as a ghost. He is silent using body language and expressive facial features, especially his eyes to communicate. The ghostly visitations are rendered in so many creative and clever visual formats. Hues of deep blue and sea green are used heavily as are judicious reds. There is one point where Lee’s eyes are the focal point. These sequences are scary but also beautiful. We seem to be out of Poe territory now and drawing more from gothic ghost stories like Henry’s James’ Turn of the Screw. As the young lady continues to be seduced and savaged by the ghost things take an even odder shading. As powerful as the image of Lee wielding the whip on her in the dark of night is, we’re given clues that not only does this excite her sexually but that it may be she who is manipulating him to commit these acts.
Bava has created a visually stunning piece here with his trademark use of colors. The sadomasochistic sexuality on display is quite risqué for the times. This is a European film which was heavily edited and censored when it was released in the states. This was done despite the fact that the acts themselves do not feature any nudity save for the lady’s upper back. The bloodshed is very minimal. Yet the scenes are entirely compelling, due in large part to the actors’ eyes and the way the scenes are shot. Throughout the film there is a classical piano supported by strings and other orchestral pieces in sections. The lone keyboard has a romantic expressive feel to it that suits the visuals perfectly. This is a stately and very well presented story. It’s classy like the films that Price and Corman made yet Bava’s story has a seething sexuality that is unique. The Whip and The Body is an engaging tale filled with plenty of tantalizing visuals that look fantastic in this Blu-Ray edition. Bava creates a captivating atmosphere that is both unnerving and visually luscious. He’s got a great feel for this. Lee has a real commanding presence in his part delivering much of his role silently as the ghost. 1963 was the same year that Bava made Black Sabbath with Boris Karloff. Working with two of the major icons of the horror genre in the same year is impressive. That’s a pair of incredible films from this stylish filmmaker.
Video – 1.78:1 Though the end result does tend to favor blues and greens this 35mm French print looks to be in remarkable condition after the very beginning. The credits are soft and the opening scene of a man riding a horse along the seacoast to a castle seems to repeat the very first few seconds almost in a jump cut. After that moment the print looks to be in fabulous shape to me. Strong colors and good detail can be found in the textures of furniture and clothing. There was one scratch that I noticed and very few instances of any kind of dirt or speckles. In some scenes you will encounter portions of the frame that are cast very darkly resulting in black crush. However the overall experience is extremely solid showing off the bold colors that Bava is know for. Green is a tough color to work with. Many lighting directors who come from a theatre background won’t go near it. But Bava gets some neat hues and tones from his sea greens and ocean blues. With the exteriors of the movie done along the seacoast this seems very appropriate.
Audio – Italian, French and English dubbed tracks with subtitles offered in English. Keep in mind that the entire film was shot MOS, without sound. The actors’ voices were dubbed in later for all languages. Without a doubt it is disappointing that Lee was not able to dub his own voice. This apparently bothered him to the point that it was the last time he let it occur in a film he would work in. The score by Carlo Rustichelli sounds lush and full. At times it feels a bit too much but for the most part it’s an excellent fit. Sound effects are ok. Extras – Commentary by author Tim Lucas, Trailers for a few other Bava films
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Excellent