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Archive for May, 2013

Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine (1974) Blu-Ray Review

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Stars: Francoise Prevost, Paolo Malco, Jenny Tamburi, Bruna Beani
Director: Sergio Grieco
Released by Redemption / Kino Lorber

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The nuns at St.Valentine may not be quite as sinful as you may be expecting. The film made in 1974 by Sergio Grieco comes across as much more of a swashbuckler set during the inquisition with somewhat less swash, too. Esteban loves Lucita only they are from two families that do not get along. Luctia’s father solves this by accusing Esteban of heresy and hiding his daughter away in a convent. When we first see Esteban he is wounded and being chased by a group of soldiers. Somehow he manages to fight them off seeking shelter in the very same convent that his beloved is sequestered. The janitor at the place helps bandage his wounds and arranges meetings with his girlfriend. Meanwhile Lucita’s roommate decides to make a play for her only she wants no part of her lesbian games. Soon the roommate is found dead and Lucita is blamed. She’s hung by her wrists and questioned by the lascivious and evil traveling inquisitor. This storyline is interrupted for a short moment so the mother superior can have one of her girls whipped for no reason. This abbess is nothing but trouble for everyone. No one likes her.

That’s pretty much it except for a lot of free flowing accusations. The janitor double crosses the lovers and gives them up. The inquisitor finds out that the abbess has been smuggling in men, having her way with them for a night and then burying them out in the yard. He figures everyone is complaisant so he has all the nuns gathered up and walled into one section of the convent. The soldiers cement them in just like Vincent Price would do in one of his Edgar Allen Poe films for Roger Corman. This leads to the big attraction in the film. After going mad from hunger and thirst the nuns start disrobing and trying to kill each other. A few of them fight over rocks that they think they can eat. Will Esteban be able to save Lucita who has been walled in with them? Will the abbess get her just deserts?

 

Director Sergio Greico is best known for a series of James Bond spoofs in the seventies and being a contributing writer to Enzo Castellari’s The Inglorious Bastards (1978) with Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson. Despite a few sadistic torture scenes with the nuns Sergio Grieco’s movie plays like a medieval pot boiler with a pretty obvious narrative. The plot draws freely from Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Edgar Allen Poe and famed director Ken Russell to help enliven the storyline. The production’s biggest asset is the castle that it was shot in. It’s mild entertainment.

Video – 2.35:1
The materials that contribute to this Blu-ray were in okay shape so you get an okay transfer. There are some scratches and print damage but nothing terrible. Colors do not really engage but one gets the feeling that the film was not up for any cinemaphotography awards either.

Audio – Italian language with English subtitles.
The entire affair is dubbed so you don’t actually get the benefit of each actor’s vocal performance. Music and effects are mixed in but like a lot of low budget dubbed films from this era it has a cheap and mediocre feel to it. However if you are used to these it comes across as expected. Amusingly it seems that everyone is constantly calling everyone else “wretched” in the subtitles.

Extras – None.
Though there are trailers for other Redemption titles that look very tempting.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic

Movie – Fair

Blu-Ray– Fair

Leave Her to Heaven (1945) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Stars: Gene Tierney, Vincent Price, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain, Mary Phillips, Ray Collins, Darryl Hickman, Gene Lockhart
Director: John Stahl
Released by Twilight Time
Limited Edition of 3,000 units
Available at screenarchives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Leave Her to Heaven pushed the limits of the kind of character that could be presented on film. Gene Tierney’s Ellen Berent does the kinds of things that the Hays Code tried to protect the movie going public from starting in the mid thirties. The obsessive lengths to which this lady went to protect what she perceived as hers were certainly murderous. She broke the lines of morality committing acts that were socially reprehensible. But she looks so damn good she almost gets away with it. Much of the reputation of this film rests with that character. Leave Her to Heaven is essentially a melodrama set in the more than gorgeous playgrounds of the very rich, only the leading lady acts like she stepped out of a Film Noir. The fact that all of this is shot in some of the most sumptuous Technicolor eye candy you can imagine creates a delicious dichotomy.

There is a brief opening showing a man arriving by canoe to a secluded dock on a lake. He’s been away in prison for two years and has returned home. The rest of the film is a flashback save for the very last shot. We first see Ellen in a well appointed train car reading a novel. Cornel Wilde (Naked Prey) who played lots of romantic leads with an easy charm sits across from her. They have some witty banter until she realizes that she is chatting with the man whose face adorns the dust jacket to the book she has been reading. She invites him to her family’s posh New Mexican getaway. As he enters the house we see a picture of her father on the mantle that bears a striking resemblance to the one on the book jacket. In a series of very decisive manipulations Ellen has dumped her politically minded finance, played by Vincent Price, told her family that she and Richard Harland (Wilde)are engaged, and then takes him aside and proposes to him.

So much of the scenery, costumes and even the entrances of the characters are loaded to amplify their personalities. There is a scene with Richard typing away at poolside while Ellen slithers into the water. She literally sleeks under the shimmering water and surfaces right in front of him. It feels almost more invasive than seductive. She then races two kids across the pool as one of her relatives remarks while Richard cheers her on, “Ellen always wins”. Each of them has a sibling. Jeanne Crain plays Ellen’s down to earth adopted little sister with lots of vitality and pep. Richard has a younger brother, Danny who has suffered some malady leaving him unable to walk. Danny is full of a golly-gee enthusiasm and is very close to his older brother. As the narrative moves on it becomes clear that Ellen’s possessiveness of Richard and her pathological desire to have him all to herself is going to become very dangerous. While at the rustic Back of the Moon cabin in Maine she keeps trying to send little Danny away so she and Richard can be alone together. Yet she coaches him and makes him feel very special to her. We can see a bad thing coming. There are others instances of Ellen’s increasingly malevolent side; however we’ll not spoil them.


Each time we see Gene Tierney she has on a new costume. These are not just outfits; these are magnificent state of the art creations that show her off to the nines. She turned heads in Laura (1944) but here she is presented in such an opulent array of gowns, Chinese style coats, sexy shoes, wild sunglasses, dressing gowns, negligees, swimsuits that she looks like a truckload of Fifth Avenue designer stores follows her around. Her make-up is impeccable but it is the candy apple red lipstick that stands out. The locations in the film are also chosen for their striking visuals. We see vistas, sunsets, tree lines and lake views that are mind blowing. There is a deft mix of meticulously built soundstages and actual locations in Monterey California, Sedona Arizona, Maine and Wyoming. That first interior in the spacious vacation home in New Mexico has all kinds of wall hangings and carved wooden doors with these intricate glass transoms. As the various sections of the story unfold, we see pages, like chapters in a book that are titled by the locations. When the story reaches its conclusion and we return to the man getting out of the canoe by the lakeside dock, the costuming and photography are set up so that it looks like a gorgeous, beautiful but decidedly black and white portrait. Leon Shamroy won the Academy Award for his cinemaphotography on this film. He was the goto cameraman at Twentieth Century Fox working on everything from The Black Swan (1942) to The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) to Planet of the Apes (1968). However this is the one of his that makes his stunning contribution stand out as if it were an active member of the cast.

As beautiful as the film looks it is still driven by the very black heart of Ellen Berent. Though it may seem a simple concept to place such a dark character into such a colorful and beautiful movie it works very well. Both the color and the dark are deep and rich.

Video – 1.33:1
This is a wholly successful transfer that will leave you staring in awe at some of the costuming and richly detailed sets. Technicolor is an unusual process that always seems more suited for larger than life legends like Robin Hood and MGM musical fantasies. When combined with present day modern stories the coloring can look unrealistic, too bold, and too rich. Yet in the case of Leave Her to Heaven it works wonderfully with the story. Gene Tierney’s costumes and make-up are captivating. The colors really show off what a striking presence she could be on film. This is a completely satisfying treatment of the movie. I have never seen it look this good.

Audio – DTS 1.0 in English, Subtitles offered in English SDH
The new DTS track is in excellent shape. All dialogue is clear. The mix brings out the rich undertones to some of the voices. Alfred Newman’s orchestrations get a nice rich treatment although a few times the drums start taking advantage of the subwoofer and get a little aggressive.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isoltated track, commentary with Richard Schickel and Darry Hickman (Danny), Movietone newsreel, and original trailer

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic

Movie – Excellent

Blu-ray – Excellent

Bloodline (2011) DVD Review

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Stars: Francesca Faiella, Virgilio Olivari, Marco Benevento
Director: Edo Tagliavini
Released by Chemical Burn

Reviewed by Richard J. Doyle

Sandra (Francesca Faiella) and Marco (Marco Benevento) are journalists doing a story on drug dealing.  When faulty equipment blows their surveillance of a gang of dealers, they are pulled from the story and assigned to cover the production of a pornographic film by a director who’s becoming famous for his genre-bending productions that use a combination of amateurs and professional actors.  They are by no means excited to cover this story, but they are given little choice.

Sandra has particular reasons not to want to cover this film.  When she was a young girl, her twin sister Giulia and herself were attacked by the Surgeon, a psychopath who kidnapped people in order to surgically remove their organs.  Sandra escaped when she was injured and Giulia acted as a diversion to allow her escape.  Giulia was never seen again.  The film is being shot in the same location as this attack.

On their first evening covering the film, Sandra and Marco hear rumours that the Surgeon has been sighted in the area, many years after his supposed death.  It’s not long before members of the crew start disappearing and the Surgeon seems to be the culprit.  Sandra and Marco stumble upon his hideout … and the film takes a really odd turn.

“Bloodline” is a modern giallo, and like many modern takes on the genre, it reproduces a lot of the plot elements of the genre without reproducing the style.  As such, it’s an interesting, but not particularly rewarding film.  I was prepared to write it off as a curiosity until a completely unexpected change in genre happened during the last third of the film.  Without giving too much away, the last third is an escalating series of bizarre events that takes the film in genuinely unexpected directions.  Worth a watch, if only for this last third.

Video – 1.77:1 One of the ways this giallo homage disappoints is with it’s rather bland visuals.  The film is overly dark and has a harsh, video look to it.

Audio – Italian 5.1 Surround with English subtitles.

Extras – The release is bare bones

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic

DVD – Fair

Movie – Good

The Wicked DVD Review

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Stars: Devon Werkheiser, Nicole Forester, Justin Deeley, Cassie Keller, Caitlin Carmichael, and Diana Hopper
Director: Peter Winther
Released by RLJ Entertainment

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The Wicked manages to be both likeable and disappointing with the later eventually winning out despite some good qualities in the mix. The film opens with a terrified young girl being literally sucked out of her bed and out the window by a malevolent spirit. After the promising opening, if you can forgive the bad computer effects, the credits are presented in fancy gothic lettering that is accented with some smoke and dripping water imagery. During the credit sequence the witch is presented as an almost Disney-esque cartoon figure. That leaves us feeling not quite sure just what kind of picture we are about to see. Are we in afternoon school special territory here or about to settle in for a real dose of witchy horror? The question never really gets answered for the viewer.

We’re introduced to some teens who tell us the town’s legend about the local witch. There is an old abandoned house and the legends states that if you hurl a rock at the house and break a window the witch will get you and eat you. Two couples sneak away for an overnight of camping and naturally they hurl a few rocks to tempt the fates. The younger brother of one of the boys and his tomboy girl friend Sammy follow along keeping out of sight in order to take some illicit photos that they can blackmail the older sibling with. It’s not a bad set up. The scenes between Sammy played by Diana Hopper and the younger brother Max (Devon Werkheiser) have a good quality to them. Max’s Grandpa who believed in magic has just passed away bequeathing a few tricks to his grandson. It’s as if the witch is free to prey on the community now that grandpa is no longer looking out for them. Meanwhile the scenes with the camping teens tease at a sexuality that is never delivered.

The rest of the film then descends into the witch vs. the kids. As she catches them she brings them home and wraps them up with an apple stuck in their mouth. The apple imagery is like a Snow White or fairy tale reference. The kids get cocooned up like in Alien (1979) but the bubble wrap and cheese cloth they are wrapped in looks really…well cheesy. The witch’s make-up is pretty good though it is done in much more of a theatrical style that would be more effective on a stage than in close up in a movie. She feeds the unlucky kids into a meat grinder and drinks from chunky soup that lets her start to regain her youthfulness and beauty back. There is a very minimal amount of gore with the blood splatters being handled by that poor CGI again. What really hurts this film the most is the atrocious special effects on two counts. First the idea for what they were supposed to be and secondly the horrid CGI execution. The witch disappears like she is beaming up to the Enterprise and then pops up in other places. Only the flashing of the image distorts so badly it leaves a brief aura on the screen and then kind on muddies its way into the next image. There are also some point of view shots for the witch done in a bright infra red hue. Unfortunately again they distort and the color overwhelms the camera resulting in a smeary ugly image.

There is a pretty enjoyable juvenile horror film in here buried beneath a misguided and poorly directed attempt at something else. It’s hard to see just who the film makers had in mind when they made this one. Had this been an afternoon kid’s horror flick it might have been worked better. An older audience is bound to feel that the film did not go far enough. The two local town cops are ridiculous. Cast or directed differently they could have brought a good comic relief to the story. The majority of the cast is pretty amateur with one exception. Diana Hopper as Sammy has a nice appeal and a naturalness on screen. There is nothing wrong with a juvenile horror film. Many of them are lots of fun and some manage to be scary despite the imposed limits of the sub-genre. This witch just doesn’t know which way to fly.

Video – 1.78:1
The equipment used to shoot the movie and the way it’s lit appear to come up short in quite a few instances. There are lots of flares. The colors bleed through. There are plenty of times when the brightness overwhelms the camera’s ability to handle it resulting in a distorted and blown out image.

Audio – Dolby 5.1 in English. Although closed captioning is listed on the cover the only options on the menu are play and chapter selection. Dialogue is generally clear. The witch mumbles what sounds like Latin. She may be conjugating verbs for all we can tell.
The music track comes across okay, including an out of nowhere pop song that accompanies two of the characters as they ride their bikes. It won’t be giving Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid any competition.

Extras – None. Though listed on the case No Soul is Safe, a making of featurette is not to be found on the actual DVD

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic

Movie – Fair

DVD – Fair