AV Maniacs formerly DVD maniacs

Archive for March, 2011

Embodiment of Evil: Blu Ray/DVD Review

Thursday, March 31st, 2011











Directed by Jose Mojica Marins

Synapse Films, Blu Ray, DVD combo

Who is Coffin Joe? This dark figure has been shrouded in rumor and myth since the late sixties.  He is the perfect cult horror movie star. Back then all anyone had ever seen were a few stills in magazines and books. People talked about him in reverence all through the seventies.  Did you see the Coffin Joe movie?  Have you seen both of them?  There’s more?  He fit the cult hero mold so perfectly because so few people had actually ever seen one of his films.  You had to be in the know and then some. Jose Mojica Marins made At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul in 1963 and the sequel This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse in 1967.  These were made in  Brazil, South America and had no releases I’d heard of  in the US like many Italian and foreign made contemporary horror films. They weren’t shown on late night TV and did not populate all those regional weekly horror host shows.  Had they even been available I would imagine most local programmers would keep a safe distance from them. Coffin Joe takes no prisoners and he crosses taboo lines with delightful abandon.   It wasn’t until sometime in the mid eighties that these film began to show up on VHS here.  Now over forty years later, Coffin Joe is back.

The film begins with a nice slow build up reminescent of many Hammer and Universal horror films. Coffin Joe has been locked up in prison for many years for unspeakable crimes. About a dozen guards fill the narrow hallway and hesitently make their way to his cell. They are afraid.  The first you seen of him is his long fingernails curling out from the narrow slit in the steel reinforced door. Then we get a close up of his face. This guy has a real commanding presence.  His acting style is over the top and then some. He seems equal parts Bela Lugosi and some low life sideshow magician.  In no time Coffin Joe is back out on the streets.  He dresses in a top hat, cape and  the kind of suit that Mr. Hyde would wear to terrorize the turn of the centruy London streets.  He is clearly an anachronism. A creature from another time.  Bruno, his faithful hunchback servent helps set him up in town and has four recruits more eager than freshman pledges at Delta House ready to do his bidding.  Director Jose Marins blends so many classic horror movie genre staples that its almost funny.  Almost, that is until you hear and see his plan. Coffin Joe needs women. He needs to test them to see if they are worthy to bear his children that he may achive immortality. He spouts a line of bizarre philosophy with a fire and brimstone intensity. Before he even begins his quest we meet the whacko priest who has to send Coffin Joe to eternal damnation for killing his father.  He prepares for this by hooking cables from a car battery to his body and giving himself a good jolt now and then. Electric Flagelation? When the local sheriff finds out his lawyer wife helped him get out of prison he and his deputies beat her senseless with clubs.  These are the good guys?

We’re not ready for Coffin Joe to get started yet.  First he has to have a few visitations from the ghosts of past victims.  In a twisted page from Charles Dickens’ Chirstimas Carol,  Joe is haunted by a woman he raped seen hanging from a tree in the middle of a destered forest at night. She is suspended by her neck high above him. She is rendered in deep contrasted shades of black and white. She gazes down and admonishes him. He cowers. After so much poverty row style filmmaking this sequence is simply beautiful to behold.  The way the apparition sways in the air, her presence literaly piercing through the night is wonderfully frightening.  Coffin Joe’s second vision has literaly clawled her way up through the earth and spews live crawling spiders from inside her.

Now Coffin Joe is ready to begin.After a quick montage of  Joe’s devotees grabbing local women from cars and dance floors he assembles everyone in his well equipped basement that would be the envy of  the Tower of London gang    The level of depravity that Coffin Joe heaps upon his victims is truly appaling. The gore score is off the charts. Most of the actsare done with practical effects. There are inscets, worms, grubs, cockroaches and snakes liberally distributed. He uses knives, long meat hooks, whips and thumb screws. There is a scene with a woman and a pig that reportedly had much of the crew fleeing the set. That sounds like publicty but you hear about it almost casually in one of the extras. When you see the sequence you’ll wonder just who in the hell cold conceive of such a thing, much less get actors and a crew to actually film it.  The level of realism and intensity in this section of the film is staggering and will leave many people slack jawed and wide eyed. Coffin Joe has waited forty years to show you how he can get it on and man has this guy learned a few new moves since we’ve seen him.  There is an extended psychedelic dream sequence that rivals the one in Billy Jack for out and out loonacy. It even looks like one of  those artful Japanese film versions of Hell. However I don’t think Marins is influenced by either.  He seems driven by his own vision. Toward the end there is a nicely shot bit in an amusement park and that the final scene is very clever indeed.

VIDEO – Synapse’s treatment of the film elements and 1:85.1 transfer have resutled in one spectacular looking Blu Ray. Black levels are deep and sumpteous. Colors saturate with a very pleasing resonance.  Detail is strong. Many of the nightime exteriors have theatrical looking landscapes in the distance that are clearly visable and appreciated. Colors are exagerated and the tansfer does them justice.  This is a visual treat and an exceptionally good looking Blu Ray.

AUDIO -  The disc offers both a 5.1 and a stereo mix in the original Portugese languagewith English subtitles. There is no dubbed version.  Some of the interiors’ creepy sound effects take advantage of the multiple speaker’s soundstage, but by and large this is a very front heavy show.  Dailogue while sometimes threatening to distort is always clear and understandable. Not being able to understand a word of the language I was none the less enthralled to hear Jose Mojica Marins’ voice booming the Coffin Joe lines. He really did remind me of the way Bela Lugosi got into his over dramatic line readings. His accent and booming voice suit the character so well.

EXTRAS –  There is a theatrical trailer and some footage taken from The Fantasia Film Festival Premiere. Neither is any great shakes.  However the making of  featurette is terrific and filled with some great stuff. All dialogue is subtitled. We get to see the first ghost hanging from a tree calmly smoking a cigarettte as the crew preps the shot. We see that these black and white apparitions were painted green and orange then shot for black and white.  An old school trick. We hear Marins complaining that he has to get his lines right since they ae shooting in sync sound and not dubbing like he used to do. He makes the great comment that some cockroaches are more difficult to work with than stuck up actors. The whole crew calls him Moijica and shows him a reverence relfecting his true cult status in Brazil. He even has a TV show there.What a character. And he says those Fu Manchu nails are real, too! The DVD carries the same features.

OVERALL -  I was unexpectedly captivated by this film. While the filmmaking bounces around from poverty row simplicity to art house flourishes, Jose Mojica Marins’ devotion to his character is really to be commended.  The old school style build up worked wonderfully and while that middle section was hard to take I finished the film a bonafide Coffin Joe fan.  The Blu Ray looks gorgeous. Make no mistake, this film is misogynistic, very violent and will be offensive to those used to mainstream fare. If you want a taste of  exploitation fare with a real different twist, say hello to Coffin Joe.   Cautiously recommended for most, but highly recommended for Maniacs.

Film – 8

Blu Ray – 9

Steven Ruskin


The Nesting From Blue Underground: Updated!

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Agoraphobic mystery novelist Lauren Cochran decides to leave the city in an attempt to cure her recent writer’s block. She rents an old Victorian house in the quiet countryside, unaware of its shocking history. As those around her suffer increasingly violent deaths, Lauren begins to unravel the truth: the house was once an infamous brothel now haunted by the victims of a bloody massacre. Will her terrifying phobia allow her to escape from THE NESTING? Also known as MASSACRE MANSION and PHOBIA, this eerie house of horrors was co-written, produced, and directed by notorious adult filmmaker Armand Weston, and stars Robin Groves (STEPHEN KING’S SILVER BULLET), John Carradine (SHOCK WAVES, THE HOWLING), and Academy Award® winner Gloria Grahame (THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, OKLAHOMA!) in her final film role. Long unavailable on home video, THE NESTING has been newly transferred in High Definition from the original camera negative and is presented here in a never-before-seen Director’s Cut!

Disc Specs
HD: 1.85:1 Transfer
6.1 DTS-ES; 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX; Original Mono

Theatrical Trailers
TV Spots
Poster & Still
Gallery Street
Date: June 28, 2011
Retail: $19.98



In order to present the highest quality edition of THE NESTING, the upcoming Blu-ray and DVD releases will now present the movie in its original Theatrical Version. A section of Deleted and Extended Scenes will be included as Extras.


Torso (Uncut) Coming To Blu-Ray and DVD From Blue Underground

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

The shocking psychosexual thriller is now available on High Definition Blu-ray Disc, containing both its uncensored English Version and full-length Italian Director’s Cut!

One Day She Met A Man Who Loved Beautiful Women… BUT NOT ALL IN ONE PIECE!

A series of sex murders shock a college campus, and four beautiful young girlfriends head for the safety of an isolated country villa. But as they succumb to their own erotic desires, their weekend of pleasure becomes a vacation to dismember at the hands – and blade – of the lecherous maniac.

Directed by Sergio Martino (MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD) and starring Suzy Kendall (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) and Tina Aumont (SALON KITTY), this Euro Horror chiller was originally released in America with much of its controversial violence removed by censors. Now freshly transferred in thrilling High Definition from the original negative, TORSO is presented in both its Uncensored English Version and Full-Length Italian Director’s Cut for the first time ever!

• Murders in Perugia – Interview with Co-Writer/Director Sergio Martino
• U.S. Opening Credits
• U.S. Trailer
• International Trailer
• TV Spots
• Radio Spot
• Poster & Still Gallery
Disc Specs:

English: 90 Mins. / Italian: 93 Mins.
Street Date: July 26, 2011
Retail: (Blu-ray)$29.95 (DVD) $19.98

The Monster Squad: DVD Review

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

By Troy Howarth

Directed by Fred Dekker; Screenplay by Shane Black and Fred Dekker; Starring Andre Gower, Robby Kiger, Duncan Regehr, Stephen Macht, Jason Hervey, Brent Chalem, Tom Noonan, Ashley Bank, Michael Faustino, Leonardo Cimino, Carl Thibault, Jack Gwillim

A group of boys obsessed with horror movies are plunged into a real life horror scenario when Dracula (Duncan Regehr) comes to their little town with other monsters in tow…


Writer/director Fred Dekker loves the horror films of the 30s and 40s and it shows. The Monster Mash is nothing short of a full-blown valentine to the Universal horrors of that era, with a smattering of Hammer horror thrown in for good measure. As a follow-up to his promising debut Night of the Creeps (1986), it seemed to confirm that Dekker had a real career ahead of him in the retro-horror stakes. Alas, both films flopped, and he’s only helmed two things (an episode of HBO’s popular Tales from the Crypt, and the disappointing RoboCop 3) in their wake.


The film manages to cram in just about every 80s high school misfit cliché imaginable, and yet it remains fresh and engaging from beginning to end. Some of the jokes fall flat, but it’s such a good humored movie that it hardly matters. However, most crucially, Dekker and his actors made the sensible decision to play things more or less straight. As with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), which was a major influence on Dekker, The Monster Squad allows its creatures to retain their dignity. Dracula, as played by Duncan Regehr, is no buffoon – he’s serious and quite, quite deadly. Regehr gives an imposing performance as the Count, mixing in elements of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, while still delivering a take that is uniquely his own. Similarly, the Frankenstein monster, as played by Tom Noonan (Manhunter), retains the childlike innocence of Boris Karloff’s definitive interpretation in Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). True, the kids teach him to speak slang (“Bogus!”) but he is allowed to remain surprisingly ‘human,’ despite the horrific makeup. Noonan resists the urge to camp things up and delivers a quietly affecting performance. The wolfman (played by Napoleon Dynamite’s Carl Thibault), the mummy and the Gill Man (a vaguely disguised variation on The Creature from the Black Lagoon) also get in on the action, but they’re put to more functional use and don’t benefit from such character shading. In any event, the point remains: while many mixtures of horror and comedy fall flat because the two things cancel each other out, The Monster Squad works surprisingly well because it has a genuinely sweet, naïve tone – and yet it delivers a real sense of menace at the same time.


Dekker does a good job of keeping things moving. The film is economically shot, belying its low budget with some impressive widescreen cinematography and makeup effects courtesy of Stan Winston (Jurassic Park). Some of the more ambitious effects may look a bit dated today, but it’s all part of the film’s charm – after all, it is very much in keeping with the style and spirit of the films it’s paying tribute to, anyway. The script by Dekker and Shane Black has a good grasp on the dynamics between the kids who comprise the titular squad. They seem like real school kids, as opposed to a middle aged writer’s idea of what a school kid is really like, and the actors respond to this with infectious enthusiasm. The characters are likable, and we actually care about what happens to them.


Alas, the mixture of sweet natured comedy and old style horror failed to meet with much success upon its major release. As is so often the case, however, The Monster Squad has gone on to become a major cult favorite – and it’s easy to see why. Along with Tom Holland’s Fright Night (1985), it’s one of the very few horror films of its era that manages to pay tribute to the horror films of yesteryear with real wit and affection.


The Monster Squad gets the deluxe treatment in this 2 disc 20th Anniversary Edition from Lionsgate. The film itself gets a fresh new 2.35/16×9 transfer, and the end results are terrific. Colors are vivid, detail is very strong, and the print is in excellent condition. Viewers accustomed to panned and scanned TV prints will really appreciate how well Dekker uses the wide frame. Some minor edge enhancement is evident, but it is never a major distraction.


The original stereo mix is included along with a new 5.1 remix. The 5.1 track is very strong – music and sound effects are well distributed and have ample punch, though some of the dialogue sometimes sounds a little soft. Purists will no doubt prefer the stereo track, which is also in excellent condition. There are no issues with hissing or background hiss, and the higher levels register well without any distortion. English subtitles are included, along with English captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing.


This really does qualify as a special edition. Disc one includes the feature, with two commentary tracks. The first track features Dekker and stars Andre Gower, Ryan Lambert and Ashley Bank. The second features Dekker and director of photography Bradford May. The first track is the livelier of the two, and Dekker and his now-grown stars seem to be having a blast reliving the whole experience. The second track is a little more technically-oriented, and if it’s not quite as chatty, it’s still loaded with interesting information. The two tracks would appear to have covered all the bases, but that’s just the beginning.


Disc two kicks off with a feature length documentary on the making of the film, Monster Squad Forever. Divided into five sections, the documentary includes input from virtually all surviving members of the cast and crew. There’s plenty of fascinating insights and revelations on display here, including the surprise revelation that a pre-stardom Liam Neeson was very nearly cast as Dracula. A Conversation with Frankenstein, the next featurette, allows Tom Noonan to address the audience in character. There’s also a generous selection of deleted scenes, an original theatrical trailer and TV spot, and a still gallery. Simply put: if you’re a fan of this film this package will satiate your curiosity about every aspect of its inception, production and reception. The package also includes a note from Dekker, included as an insert.


Film: **** out of *****

DVD: ***** out of *****