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Archive for July, 2013

The Incredible Melting Man (1977) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

Stars: Alex Rebar, Michael Allredge, Lisle Wilson, Burr DeBenning, Myron Healy
Director: William Sachs
Released by Shout / Scream Factory

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

With a title like The Incredible Melting Man you know just what you are in for. Made for an incredibly low budget in 1977 the film is a fun throwback to 1950’s science fiction movies. While returning home from Saturn a crew of three astronauts is exposed to dangerous radiation. Two are killed and the third survives. Alex Rebar the actor playing Steve West is covered in bandages in the hospital. A few scientists express some grave concern. Despite some preliminary talk director William Sachs wastes little time in getting to the crux of the film. Steve West removes his bandages to find out that he is beginning to melt. His reaction is to go on a rampage killing everyone in sight. Somehow this prolongs his life. That’s not really clear but it doesn’t matter. Basically this is a series of episodic attacks by the Melting Man, who is melting more and more as the film goes on. How many people will he kill before he melts into a glop that is unable to move? That’s the only real narrative.

There is a military man and a scientist friend of West’s who try to keep up with him. Everything is played top secret hush-hush, though word must be getting around town as West is seen by more people. Dr. Nelson the scientist at one point comes home and yells at this wife because there are no crackers for his soup. It’s a nicely bizarre random moment. One also wonders if this guy is related to Major Tony Nelson from I Dream of Jeannie. Make up and special effects master Rick Baker had just come off of Star Wars (1977) and says in his interview that he initially turned this down as he thought he should be doing something more career advancing. He quoted a higher fee hoping they’d pass. They met it and there he was engineering some terrific goopy make up for this film. His fee looks like the only expense, too. Though Baker would swiftly go on to acclaim for his work on They Fury (1978) and American Werewolf in London (1981) it is clear even in this low budget outing that he has tremendous talent. Making the Melting Man look Incredible is after all what really drives this project. The dripping and sliding mess that is West’s face just keeps getting worse and worse. An eye falls out at one point too.

There are quite a few stand-out moments in this one. Early in the film as West makes his escape from the hospital a frightened nurse runs pell-mell through a plate glass door. A reluctant model clinging to her top as a sleazy photographer tries to get her to remove it is played by cult favorite Rainbeaux Smith. Director Jonathan Demme has a small part, too. The best though has to be the older couple played by Dorothy Love and Edwin Max. They are a sexy fun loving pair pawing at each other as they drive into the night. She persuades him to stop the car so she can steal some fruit from a grove she spits out the window. When it turns out to be lemons she makes the promise of making him some lemon meringue pie sound positively salacious. The actors have a great time with this bit making it a true highlight of the film. The rest of the cast is completely wooden and never seems to exhibit the kind of fun these two have with their roles.

What prevents The Incredible Melting Man from becoming more successful  is the pacing and direction. Despite its short 84 minute running time far too many scenes go on too long. After one fright scene an actress crumbles to the floor going from hysterical crying to some odd laughing to loosing it like an actress showing off in an improvisation acting class. The film wavers in tone. Some sequences are unintentionally funny but few seem to have a clear intention. We hear that the director wanted to play it more tongue in cheek and go for the humor but was asked to play up the horror by the producers. The direction and editing never seem to get this settled. Still there are many bits here that will make it more than worth your while to check out. Rick Baker’s work is outstanding, especially the complete on camera meltdown of the main character as he decomposes next to a trash can.

 

Video – 1.78:1
The transfer does a nice job bearing in mind that the original elements could never really look first class.

Audio – DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 in English, Subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is understandable. Again the original track was no great shakes to begin with.

Extras – Commentary with director/writer William Sachs, Interviews with writer/director Sachs and make up artists Rick Baker and Greg Cannon. Baker interviews well though this does not appear to be one of his favorites.

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

Movie – Good

Blu-Ray – Good

Expectations/Confessions (1977) DVD Review

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Stars: Chris Cassidy, Kristine Heller, Jack Wright
Director: Anthony Spinelli
Released by Vinegar Syndrome

Reviewed by Richard J. Doyle

Prolific pornographic director Anthony Spinelli (born Samuel Weinstein) is respected as a creator of pornography with scope and ambition like the groundbreaking “Talk Dirty to Me” and its follow-up “Nothing to Hide” (both films are inspired by John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”).  Vinegar Syndrome has dug up two of his earlier efforts that really illustrate why his work is admired by porn aficionados.

“Expectations” stars Delania Raffino as Margot, a woman of some means coming out of a bad marriage.  She answers a classified ad placed by Montana (Chris Cassidy), a bit of a swinging hippie chick, to switch lives for a while.  Each will move into each other’s apartment, wear each other clothes; pretend to be each other.

Margot first encounters a rather rough customer looking for Montana.  He comes on quite strong with her, and what initially looks to be a rape becomes something consensual when Margot decides to go with the experience.  She later hooks up with a woman Montana sends over to mix things up a bit.  Again, reticence turns to enthusiasm.  The story seems to be entirely about sexual liberation until Margot finds out who Montana has been busy with.

“Expectations” is certainly an inventive bit of pornography, but also really odd and implausible and more than a little unpleasant.  The setup is not really believable as something that anyone would expect to get away with … quite obviously everybody is going to know that they are not who they say they are.  The guileless way that Montana tries to pull the wool over Margot’s brother’s eyes (Jack Wright … wearing an eye patch for some reason) leaves one wondering whether either had really thought about their plan at all.  Add to this the rapey feel to many of the sex scenes and this one’s more than a little off-putting.

“Confessions” stars Kristine Heller as a housewife whose husband (John Leslie) likes to take in the bedroom without giving.  Gradually she takes her dissatisfaction to the streets, bedding a motorcycle driver (Ron Rogers) and her husband’s boss (Joey Silvera), eventually going on to hiring herself out as a call girl (and encountering Jack Wright, without an eye patch this time).  This isn’t depicted as the moral decline of her character as so many films would have it, but rather as her gradual awakening as a sexually independent woman.  This film is the real gem of the set.  Heller has a wonderful naturalness and authenticity that sells this as a story about sexual awakening.

Video – 1.85:1 Both films are scanned in 2K from 35mm prints.  They show a bit of wear, but look quite good for their age.

Audio – English 2.0 Dolby.

Extras – The release is bare bones

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

DVD – Good

Expectations – Fair

Confessions – Good

The Italian Crime Collection, Volume 2 (Blu Ray)

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

The Italian Crime Collection, Volume 2

by Troy Howarth

Despite a successful run of films covering a variety of genres in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, writer/director Fernando Di Leo sunk into comparative obscurity for a number of years.  Happily, the advent of home video has introduced him to a new generation of fans – and with much of his work finally emerging as it was originally intended to be seen, he is now firmly entrenched in the ranks of the major Italian “cult” filmmakers.  Di Leo, who first rose to prominence writing the screenplays for a number of seminal pictures (including Sergio Leone’s A Fisftful of Dollars, 1964), was fond of working in his own leftist politics and ideology into rough and ready genre fare, making him akin to the likes of George A. Romero.  Ultimately, like Romero, his work is all the more pleasurable for having a bit of substance beneath the conventional mayhem – and the messages are all the more potent because they’re not hammered home in a pretentious or overly earnest manner.

Naked Violence (1969)

Starring Pier Paolo Capponi, Susan Scott, Michel Bardinet

A group of youths come under suspicion for the brutal rape and murder of a young, female teacher; an intrepid police inspector (Pier Paolo Capponi) must come to grips with the truth…

 

Naked Violence (aka I ragazzi del massarcro) followed on the heels of Di Leo’s earliest directorial outings, including the war melodrama Code Name, Red Roses (1968) and the erotic melodrama Burn, Boy, Burn (1969), and it was the first film to point to the direction his career would ultimately take.  Based on a novel by the Italian-Russian author Giorgio Scerbanenco, it offers up a heady stew of social commentary and tough edged whodunit.  The end result, like the director’s subsequent Scerbanenco adaptations (including Calibre 9 and The Italian Connection), is therefore more akin to the tradition of film noir than to the burgeoning trend in Italian popular cinema known as poliziotteschi.  The latter movement, typified by the slam bang actioneers of Umberto Lenzi (Violent Naples) and Enzo G. Castellari (The Big Racket), are altogether more jovial affairs, rife with shoot ups, half naked bimbos, and impossibly macho renegade cops packing plenty of heat.  The Di Leo films are a different breed altogether, being rather more contained, slightly more realistic, and a good deal more melancholy in tone.  Naked Violence is therefore a watershed event in its director’s filmography, even if it ultimately doesn’t pack quite the same punch as his later, more focused work.  The screenplay is more concerned with subterfuge than usual, and this may account for the slightly more heavy handed approach.  Red herrings abound, and Di Leo has an unfortunate habit of punctuating key “moments” with dramatic musical stings; the end result veers towards self parody after a while.  On the plus side, the film offers the underrated Pier Paolo Capponi one of his few leading roles – and despite a somewhat out of control combover hairdo, he acquits himself very well.  Capponi specialized in playing policemen at this stage in the game, but he would later flourish playing sleazy villains in the likes of Di Leo’s The Boss, for example.  Susan Scott (aka Nieves Navarro) is on hand to play a concerned social worker arguing on behalf of the delinquents, but she doesn’t have much of a chance to register.  The film is a bit wordier and flabbier than Di Leo’s best work, but it still offers some entertainment value – and fans will be interested to see where he began to evolve into the filmmaker he would eventually become.

Shoot First, Die Later (1975)

Starring Luc Merenda, Richard Conte, Salvo Randone, Raymond Pellegrin, Vittorio Caprioli

A hotshot cop (Luc Merenda) is secretly on the take, but when the local mob boss decides to expand his horizons from contraband to narcotics, he is forced to make a decision that may affect his life and the lives of those he loves…

Having already carved out a niche for himself as a prime purveyor of gritty police thrillers, Di Leo took a breather and helmed an elegant, Lolita-inspired melodrama titled The Seduction (1973).  Censorship difficulties compelled the director to return to his “home turf” with Shoot First, Die Later (aka Il poliziotto e Marcio).  Sadly, the theme of a crooked cop would also prove a bit too controversial, and the film has since disappeared from popular view.  Now that it is more readily available again, it is possible to appreciate this as something of a precursor to the likes of the Hong Kong Infernal Affairs trilogy, which also inspired Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Departed (2006).  Luc Merenda gives one of his strongest performances as the morally compromised “hero.”  Di Leo is less interested in painting the character in broad strokes than in focusing on the moral conundrums and contradictions inherent in the character, and Merenda responds with a finely detailed performance.  The action moves at a tremendous pace, while Remy Julienne is on hand to provide one of his patented, thrilling car chase sequences.  Di Leo and cowriter Sergio Donati (another Sergio Leone alum) pile on the twists and turns, ensuring that the story remains surprising and engaging throughout.  A solid supporting cast includes faded American leading man Richard Conte, two years away from a plum supporting part in The Godfather but already back at work on low budget Italian genre fare.

The Kidnap Syndicate (1975)

Starring Luc Merenda, James Mason, Irina Meleeva, Valentina Cortese, Vittorio Caprioli, Renato Romano

A plan to kidnap the child of a wealthy businessman (James Mason) backfires when the kidnappers are forced to abduct the child’s friend.  The father of the latter (Luc Merenda) refuses to sit idly by and negotiate with the criminals…

Kidnap Syndicate (aka La citta sconvolta, Caccia spietata di rapitori) is one of Di Leo’s more serious films of the period.  Loaded Guns, Nick the Sting and Rulers of the City all saw the director exploring the potential of (occasionally hamfisted) comedy elements being incorporated into his favored crime material, and the results were decidedly mixed.  No such intrusions are evident in this picture, which contains some of the best acting to be found in any of his films.  Merenda equals his fine work in Shoot First with his portrayal of the hardworking blue collar patriarch who is forced to contend with a gang of desperate criminals, while the great James Mason brings his customary class and style to his smaller role as the wealthy father who refuses to part so easily with his money.  Di Leo regular Vittorio Caprioli is also in good form as the exasperated police commissioner, while familiar character actors like Renato Romano (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) and Tom Felleghy (The Cat O’Nine Tails) put in welcome appearances.  One time leading lady Valentina Cortese (an Oscar nominee for Truffaut’s Day for Night) is wasted in a nothing role as Mason’s wife.  Di Leo goes to pains to highlight the differences between the haves and the have nots, and it’s clear where his sympathies lie – Mason’s millionaire comes off as haughty and superficial, while Merenda’s “everyman” is dynamic and sympathetic throughout.  Though burdened by a few too many indifferently staged exposition scenes involving the police and their investigation, Kidnap Syndicate packs a punch where it counts.

Video:

Raro’s release of The Italian Crime Collection, Volume 2 is most welcome.  Though Kidnap Syndicate and Naked Violence had already been issued by Raro’s European branch on DVD, this set marks the home video debut of Shoot First.  All three films are presented in their original 1.85 aspect ratio and have been enhanced for widescreen TVs.  The 1080p transfers look as good as the source materials will allow – colors are vivid, detail is strong, and the prints are in generally fine condition, with only some minor imperfections which serve to remind one that these are older titles.  Grain is evident throughout and the films have not been over scrubbed with DNR.  The films are spread over three discs, and are Region A coded.

Audio:

Audio options for all three include both the English and Italian dubs.  One’s individual tastes will determine which tracks to listen to – familiar “English” voice talent like Mason and Conte do their own looping on the English tracks, while they are inevitably dubbed by Italian vocal artists on the Italian tracks.  The various tracks are in good shape – the funky music scores (two of the three are scored by Luis Bacalov) and copious displays of gun fire sound loud and clear, while dialogue is limited by the hollow nature of the dubbing process.  Easy to read, removable English subtitles are included for the Italian tracks.

Extras:

Extras include a collectible booklet with writing on all three films, as well as documentaries on all three films.  Di Leo, who passed away in 2003, is a feisty presence in the various documentaries, and he comes off as pragmatic and down to earth with regards to his attitude towards his own work.  Fans will definitely want to check out the various documentaries, which also include comments from the likes of Capponi, Merenda, and various key technicians and associates of Di Leo.

Film:

Naked Violence: *** out of *****; Shoot First, Die Later: ****1/2 out of *****; The Kidnap Syndicate: *** out of *****

Video:

Naked Violence: ***1/2 out of *****; Shoot First, Die Later: ***1/2 out of *****; The Kidnap Syndicate: ***1/2 out of *****

Audio:

Naked Violence: *** out of *****; Shoot First, Die Later: *** out of *****; The Kidnap Syndicate: *** out of *****

Extras (All three): ***** out of *****

Dead Souls Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

Stars: Jesse James, Magda Apanowicz, Bill Mosely, Geraldine Hughes
Director: Colin Theys
Released by Shout / Scream Factory

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Dead Souls has a helluva opening. In a desolate house tucked way back in the woods a man flips out. At first he is annoyed at the dog barking and takes a shovel to it. Then he methodically slaughters his whole family. It is harrowing stuff as we see just enough of their normal domestic life to feel the out of nowhere frenzy of his attack. The wife is sick. The daughter is bopping around to her tunes. The son is taking care of the new born baby. The dad is really fierce. We loose track of the baby as he drags the bodies into the barn and begins to crucify each one. His last act is to lash himself to the remaining cross, nail one hand to the beam and impale his free hand with one wild swing into a protruding nail. This is the prologue.

Eighteen years later we find that baby has been raised by a religious nut. In short order she is in the hospital loaded up with drugs suffering a breakdown and Johnny has been notified that he is the remaining heir to a house located deep in the desolate woods of Maine. The film takes on a decidedly slower pace as Johnny enters the town, where he is not wanted back. He is shown the house by a realtor and elects to wander around inside before meeting him later to sign off on the paperwork. Inside he discover s squatter, Emma. He is quite taken with her and thrown off balance by his feelings. Their initial unsteadiness with each other and growing rapport is one of the best things about the film. Their scenes are written and directed well. Megda Apanowicz and Jesse James portray these two very believably. The mistrust they each display grows to a nice affection. It is clear that Johnny is unfamiliar with these feelings and not sure how to handle them.

The ghost story side of things is a bit less developed. Though there are the fleeting glimpses and barely heard sounds of ghosts in the house none of them are truly scary. That whole section of the film feels like it goes on well past the obvious. There is a group of local thugs Johnny’s age that become pawns in the climax of the film. The last section has mayhem indeed but nothing on a level as that opening. This would make for a nice evening’s entertainment if stumbled upon on Television. In fact that is exactly as it was intended as this was a made for Chiller-TV original. Where it not for the rapport of the two lead actors this would be a lesser film. Kudos are also in order for that jarring opening.

Video – 1.78:1
This looks very professional for a TV movie. The look of the dilapidated house is terrific. We see all the dirt, grime, and dust in the neglected rooms. The muted coloring is a bit overused for my taste, but that seems to be in vogue these days.

Audio – DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 DTS. Subtitles are offered in English SDH
All dialogue is clear. The effects track is not particularly robust. Music supports but does not call any attention to itself.

Extras – Commentary, Bloopers, Tour of the Set, TV Spots

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

Movie – Fair / Good

Blu-Ray – Good