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Archive for June, 2015

NIGHTMARE CASTLE Blu-Ray coming from Severin

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

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Barbara Steele Gothic Horror Classic

NIGHTMARE CASTLE

Blu-Ray Debut From Severin

Restored In HD From The Original Negative

With All-New Extras Plus TWO More Full Length Features Starring The Queen Of Horror!

Los Angeles, 6/25/15 – Severin Films today announced the global Blu-Ray premiere of NIGHTMARE CASTLE starring the Queen of gothic horror, Barbara Steele (BLACK SUNDAY). The stunning HD presentation will be accompanied by an incredible array of extras including a brand new audio commentary with Ms. Steele and horror historian David Del Valle and the first HD presentations of TWO more classic Barbara Steele shockers — newly scanned in 2k from rare US release prints: Antonio Margheriti’s CASTLE OF BLOOD and Massimo Pupillo’s TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE. The release date for this deluxe package is set for August 18th, 2015.

NIGHTMARE CASTLE: At the height of her career as the dark goddess of Italian horror, Steele delivered two of her most memorable performances in this tale of obsession, madness and depravity. Steele stars as a cheating wife who is chained, whipped and tortured to death by her sadistic scientist husband, and as her unstable blonde stepsister whose fate may be even more ghastly. Directed by Mario Caiano (NOSFERATU IN VENICE), featuring stunning black & white cinematography by Enzo Barboni (DJANGO) and the very first horror score by the legendary Ennio Morricone.

Full List Of Special Features:

Exclusive New Audio Commentary With Star Barbara Steele and Horror Historian David Del Valle

Barbara Steele In Conversation Featurette

Interview Featurette With Director Mario Caiano

BONUS FEATURE: CASTLE OF BLOOD 2k Scan Of Rare US 35mm Release Print

BONUS FEATURE: TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE 2k Scan Of Rare US 35mm Release Print

Terror Creatures Featurette With Director Massimo Pupillo, Actor Riccardo Garrone and Film Historian Fabio Melelli (In Italian with Optional English Subs)

Terror Creatures Deleted Scenes (In French with Optional English Subs)

Trailers

Prime Cut (1972) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

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Stars – Lee Marvin, Gene Hackman, Sissy Spacek, Angel Tompkins
Director – Michael Ritchie

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Prime Cut is excessive. It’s offensive and exploitive. It’s a thick slab of beef on a plate with no vegetables or potatoes to be seen. It may even be subversive. A film like this would hardly even be considered today. Let alone be made with two of the biggest stars of the day in it. After directing two early and well regarded Robert Redford films (Downhill Racer, The Candidate), Michael Ritchie presents a crime thriller that oversteps its bounds in so many unique ways that you gotta think he is smiling and grinning his ass off all the way through. This is tough stuff to be sure but in keeping with the wave of the early seventies it thumbs its collective nose at the way things used to be. It rails against the quaint country way of life that is portrayed as a bucolic quilt laid out over a savage lifestyle fueled by greed. All of that is there yet it is also two bull headed old school tough guys in Gene Hackman and Lee Marvin going at it full bore. They each have their own style and it’s easy to choose sides. Prime Cut is endlessly entertaining as long as you don’t get offended. Violence, nudity and brutality are frequent. It was typical of the times to exercise that new expressionism. Ritchie does that but he also takes plenty of other risks, too. It wasn’t just that old taboos could be shed but that directors were allowed a freer hand than before. This is offbeat in many ways.

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Gene Hackman has been running his own little hoodlum empire out of Kansas City. The syndicate in Chicago have had enough with his shenanigans. The guy they sent down to straighten him out is the star of the credit sequence. As the credits roll we see a meat packing plant in extreme detail. Different kinds of cuts are processed and packaged. A big guy named Weenie takes the remains of the Chicago gangster who has been sliced, diced, chopped and pureed into a string of hot dogs. He wraps them up and sends it off to Chicago. Lee Marvin is the ultimate enforcer. He is sent down to collect a debt and finally put an end to Mary Ann. Yes Gene Hackman’s tough character is named Mary Ann and his brother is called Weenie. Marvin has one old crony with him and several young guys on the job. When they pick up the youngest guy for the ride he asks if Marvin will meet his mother. The ride down to Kansas City is marvelously done with the changing scenery going from industrial to rural and concrete to dirt. The weather goes from dark, rainy and melancholy to bright sunshine.

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The first confrontation with Hackman at his plant is during an auction. Instead of cattle though he has pens inside filled with naked drugged up girls. Cattle, women. It’s all the same to him. These girls wallow helplessly amidst the hay in their wooden paddocks as the buyers mill around and gawk. They all stuff their faces with plates piled high with pork, beef and guts. Hackman promises to give Marvin what’s coming to him the next day at the big country fair. One of the girls whispers, “Help Me” to Marvin so he takes her with him back to the hotel. Marvin has nice clothes brought up for her and they go downstairs to the swanky hotel restaurant to eat. Sissy Spacek plays Poppy as the wide eyed and exploited innocent victim. She dresses in a nice full length dress that is completely see through. She’s got nothing on underneath. The uptight diners are shocked as they enter. Marvin defends her honor and innocence. Spacek’s character Poppy puts a face on the damage that Hackman is doing. It’s simple but it works.

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At the fair we see Mary Ann play the benevolent big businessman to everyone there. Mary Ann walks around pinning first place ribbons on everyone in sight. He’s despicable. It doesn’t take long for the battle to be on. While most of the men shoot it out with shotguns at the fairgrounds Marvin and Spacek take off to hide in a huge wheat filed. As they duck down below in the beautiful waving wheat stalks a big thrasher comes up to menace them. Ritichie shows us the spiraling sharp blades as it chases after them, They run hand in hand in front of it. Shot in the bright sunshine this whole sequence feels like a Hitchcock set piece. Very nicely done!

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Marvin plays his cold as steel character with his usual style. He has often been referred to as a force of nature and that appellation fits here. His interplay with both Spacek and later Angel Tompkins allows him to be alternately charming and romantic. To see this big guy flash such a sweet smile and relax can catch you off guard. Marvin was so much more than a tough guy. He had plenty of range and drew from a deep bag of acting techniques. When you watch the way Lee tapes the cartridges together for his machine gun you can sense a familiarity that is both from his prior military experience as well as characterization. Hackman is off the hook here. He could be such a physical actor. The scenes with him and his brother fighting all over the office are compelling. His gives his Mary Ann a big wide open smile that says don’t trust me for a minute, sucker. Prime Cut is very much of its time. It seems to flaunt its excessiveness. That works well for it both in terms of cheap thrills and a certain anti-establishment chiding, too.

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Video – 2.35:1
The vast majority of this film takes place outside in bright sunlight. We see good detail, nice colors and natural skin tones in all of those sections. Most of the interiors fair well too. On occasion as with the interior of the car on the drive down to Kansas City the darkness gets the better of the shot with some noise and grain. The grain looks natural enough but we do loose detail. Again that is only briefly and very likely inherent in the film itself. This is a good upgrade over the DVD. Comparing them showed better detail and stronger colors everywhere but that interior car scene.

Audio – DTS Mono with subtitles offered in English.
All dialogue is clear. Music is fine. Sound effects are okay. There is no directionality on the track, but there was not there to begin with.

Extras – None

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

Blue Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Report To The Commissioner (1975) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

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Stars – Michael Moriarty, Yaphet Kotto, Susan Blakely, William Devane, Richard Gere, Bob Balaban, Hector Elizondo
Director – Milton Katselaas

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Ready for a nice gritty seventies police thriller? Report To The Commissioner managed to fall under the radar when it came out and still remains unknown by far too many people. This was always one of those seventies films that you could recommend to your friends who were looking for something down and dirty that they had not seen yet. It stars Michael Moriarty as an unhinged detective. Moriarty is a quirky actor. He started out with a very solid performance in Bang The Drum Slowly (1973) but somehow managed to wind up in a long series of cult titles that while good never led him to the big roles. Now he is most well known for his run in the hit TV series, Law and Order. Here he plays Beauregard Lockley. Call me Bo. He is a wet behind the ears green detective that’s been assigned to the Times Square precinct in the City. The squad razzes him mercilessly about his name. They know that the only reason he was assigned there is because they needed a hippie type to fit in with all the weirdoes in the neighborhood. He is partnered up with Crunch a heavy set gregarious detective played by the imposing Yaphet Kotto (Alien).

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The film begins with Bo being interrogated for the murder of a blonde girl who just happens to have been a detective working undercover. Bo looks perennially like a deer caught in headlights. He hasn’t got a clue as to what is going on. We think he may have been set up. The movie then gives us a series of flashbacks that show how he recently joined the squad and wound up in this predicament. Bo is so naive when Crunch shows him the streets. He even gives money to a panhandler. Bob Balaban plays Joey a paraplegic who rides around on a wooden platform with wheels. He is causing a major ruckus in the theater district fighting with people and their dogs who are at his level. Crunch chucks his riding rig into a nearby garbage container. Bo fishes it out and gives it back to him. Meanwhile Susan Blakely as a competitive undercover cop named Patty whose street name is Chicklet gets a line on The Stick. Tony King as Stick looks ever bit the typical seventies cool dude. Stick has been at the top of the precinct’s hit parade but no one has been able to get a handle on him. Chicklet takes a big risk by moving in with him. Bo is sent out on the streets to ask around about her. He is told she is the runaway daughter of some big government guy. He is reminded to only ask. The detectives figure word will get around and bolster Patty’s undercover role as Chicklet.  It’s just for show but Bo does more than ask. He follows the beautiful girl everywhere.

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There are two fantastic chase set pieces in this film that take full advantage of the New York City locations. Balaban is keeping an eye on Chicklet for Bo. She and Stick grab a cab and start to head uptown. At first Balaban barrels his through people on the sidewalk. He barges through the crowd. They can’t tell who hit them till they look down and see this nut on his moving crate zipping by everyone’s legs. Then when the cab starts to move too fast for him he slides into the street and skitches a ride on the back of a car hanging on for dear life. It is a wild night time ride unlike any chase in the city you’ve seen before. Later Bo chases Stick out of his loft. He follows hot on his heels as Stick makes it to the roof and then jumps from rooftop to rooftop only dressed in his boxers. This is shot in broad daylight. The chases ends up with the two of them blasting into Saks Fifth Avenue‘s upscale department store.

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The last third of the film settles into a Mexican stand off in an elevator. Bo and Stick are holding the car between floors. They each have a gun leveled on each other and neither will give an inch. The department store is full up with every cop in the city. They turn the air conditioner off in the elevator. The two guys just sweat and the intensity slowly ramps up.  It becomes an elongated and memorable confrontation with a clever ending. The film, taken from a book by James Mills was written by a pair of top-notch screenwriters. Abby Mann (Judgment at Nuremberg, Kojak) and Ernest Tidyman (The French Connection) have been around the block more than a few times. They bring out one tautly constructed scene after another. All the characters that inhabit the precinct are coarse and full of deliciously inappropriate humor. These guys are not slick. They are hot and sweaty. There’s a very nice working knowledge of the City inherent in the scripting. Aside from a solid group of character actors including Hector Elizondo, William Devane and Vic Tayback you get to see the debut of Richard Gere as a sleazy pimp. Films like this are what makes the decade of the seventies such a treasure trove for cinema fans.

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Video – 1.85:1
The transfer retains that nice gritty feel you got when you saw this one in the theaters. There is good detail and some very nice colors presented however there is grain where it should be. This film has not been over cleaned up or even washed behind the ears. Some of the film stocks in those days had a very distinct look to them and it’s preserved well here.

Audio – DTS Mono with subtitles offered in English.
All dialogue is clear. The music track by Elmer Bernstein has cues that recall the slick work of Lao Schriffin at times. You’ll appreciate that ersatz urban sounds cape, and that’s not a knock at all. There are also sequences that feature some nicely unsettling and offbeat textures.

Extras – None

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

Blue Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Robojox (1990) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

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Stars – Gary Graham, Anne-Marie Johnson, Paul Koslo, Michael Alldredge, Danny Kamekona,
Director – Stuart Gordon

Released by Shout / Scream Factory

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Made seventeen years and several generations of special effects before the Michael Bay’s spectacle Transformers Robojox feels like a throwback now. The plot is overly simplistic. The practical effects continually reach for the stars. The acting is pretty terrible. And yet this is quite a lot of fun. Set years in the future wars have been abolished. Instead squabbles between countries are settled by one on one fights between gigantic robots. One man, the jock, sits inside and pilots the mechanical machine. Back at the control center each man has a coach who advises him on strategy via a headset. There is also a technical wizard who just like Q in the James Bond movies continually comes up with new fighting weaponry that he tries to keep hidden from the other side’s spies until the match begins.

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Achilles (Gary Graham) the top jock for the Market has just finished what he thought was his last fight with the Federation’s robot. However at the end of the battle Achilles sacrifices his machine to prevent a wayward rocket from hitting the fans in the stands. But his machine topples over into the bleachers in the process. He quits and the Market begins grooming Anne-Marie Johnson to take over for him. There has never been a woman pilot before but she has been bred and raised just for this. Meanwhile the big rematch is coming up with the territory of Alaska going to the winner. Will there be a new woman jock? Will Achilles get his act together and get back in the fight to save everyone. Will the Market find the spy in their midst? Will we get to see more giant robot mayhem and a killer fight to the finish? You betcha.

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The allure and charm of this film lies completely with the robots. Much of their action has been done by stop motion animation and it is thoroughly entertaining. Instead of doing all the effects work in a controlled studio the team set up work tables outside in the desert so the background would match with the outdoor desert battle terrain of the fights.  It looks great however we learn in the extras that any rain or excessive sandy breezes would delay the process considerably. There are pyrotechnics used throughout these battles. You can’t animate fire so elaborate puppets and models were created to let the fire and explosives crew could do their thing. Much of their works was inspired by The Thunderbird TV series and movies. There are all kinds of neat surprises built into the bots’ arsenal including a chainsaw, rockets, missiles, flame throwers, a flare that blinds and a cool looking bolo saw that wraps around and severs any limb it attaches to. These battle scenes are a kick and a half to watch. Those who love old school special effects will have a filed day with this.

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Director Stuart Gordon is best know for Re-Animator (1985). He got his start though as a theatre director in Chicago. One of his shows Bleacher Bums became a movie. It’s neat to hear the fans in the collapsed stands in this film referred to twice as Bleacher Bums. This film was pretty much the swan song of Empire Pictures so it has that delightfully cheap style about it. Empire made a slew of horror films in the eighties. Achilles’ coach is called Tex and he sports a cowboy hat. There are some cheesy Karate styled fights with poor choreography. The costuming is cartoon-like. Every set seems like it was built moments ago and just may fall down right after the shot is completed. Gordon keeps up a joyous attitude throughout the film. The jock pilot for the bad guys’ side is played with a Russian accent by Paul Koslo (The Omega Man). Word had it that the screenwriter Joe Haldeman was continually at odds with the director. Joe wanted more realism. These fights scenes are nothing at all like the amazing sequence in Aliens (1986) with Ripley piloting a futuristic pay loader to battle the queen alien. Haldeman wrote in his Interim Report that, “Stuart pinpointed what we’d been doing wrong. He said, “Joe, our problem is that you’re writing a movie for adults that children can enjoy, but I’m directing a movie for children that adults can enjoy!”

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Video – 1.85:1
The film looks bright and colorful as it should be. Colors are generally bold. There is good detail throughout.

Audio – DTS Mono with subtitles offered in English.
All dialogue is clear. The music and effects are supportive but not strongly featured in the mix.

Extras – Commentary with Director Stuart Gordon, Commentary with Associate Effects Director Paul Gentry, Mechanical Effects Artist Mark Rappaport, and Stop-Motion Animator Paul Jessel • New Interview with Actor Paul Koslo • Archival Interviews with Director Stuart Gordon, Pyrotechnic Supervisor Joe Viskocil, Associate Effects Director Paul Gentry, Stop-Motion Animator Paul Jessel, and Animation & Effects Artists Chris Endicott and Mark McGee • Behind-the-Scenes Footage• 2 Still Galleries • Trailers

All the special effects features are fascinating and enjoyable. Any discussion of David Allen’s stop motion work is captivating. He was the visual effects director and apparently inspired a lot of the crew with his vision and relaxed manner on the set.

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

Blue Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good