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Archive for September, 2015

10 To Midnight (1983) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

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Stars – Charles Bronson, Lisa Eilbacher, Andrew Stevens, Geoffrey Lewis, Wilford Brimley.
Director – J. Lee Thompson

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

For a man whose screen persona is so clearly recognized Charles Bronson has had several distinct periods to his acting career. There were the early years with a slew of roles in TV shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and films like House of Wax (1953), Crime Wave (1954) and The Big House U.S.A. (1955). He established himself as a tough guy who looked like he could really fight. His supporting roles in the major hits The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963) elevated him to star status. He made several excellent films in the seventies built around his stoic man of action working with director Michael Winner including The Mechanic (1972) and the iconic Death Wish (1974). Walter Hill’s Hard Times (1975) set during the Depression showed a little bit more to his character. However Bronson made action films. His stock in trade was his formidable macho character and that ever present mustache which he had steadfastly refused to shave off for any role. In his later years at the twilight of his career he made a lot of films for Cannon. These were the Cannon years. Expectations were lowered but the man still delivered that strong dependable presence to his audience. In Death Wish 3 when the nice old man from the neighborhood Martin Balsam got put in the hospital by the local gang, Bronson went back to his apartment, picked up his old Army weapons and let loose hell on those bastards. It may have been a trite formula by that point but it was still a helluva lot of fun.

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This time out though they changed up the formula. This was a slasher movie and a real sleazy one at that. Sure we knew going in that Bronson would be a cop going after the guy but his crimes were portrayed in a lot seedier way. This creepy guy, Warren tries to pick up two girls at a movie theater. He makes sure they know it too, then he sneaks out of a bathroom window. Warren follows a hot girl he knows from his office job. When she and her boyfriend drive off in his van to secluded part of the forest to have sex he also strips down. He rips open the van door wearing only a pair of gloves. He kills the guy and then chases the naked girl through the woods. He eventually corners her and as she begs him to stop he rips into her with a big knife. Apparently Lizzie Borden also took her clothes off before her famous ax murders to avoid getting any incriminating blood on her. Since Warren was such a creep around the office suspicion falls on him but his well constructed alibi holds up. Geoffrey Lewis as his attorney tells him that the fake insanity defensive is always there for him in case. Just says voices made you do it and you’re only get a few years in the loony bin then be free.

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Andrew Stevens is the young detective assigned to the grizzled and experienced Bronson. Lisa Eilbacher is on hand as his estranged daughter who is a nurse. Just as she begins to start a relationship with her dad again it is clear that the serial killer is going after her, too.  He wipes out several of her roommates who worked at the hospital with her. All of the murders feature abundant nudity and knife play. Don’t forget that Warren is also naked when he commits these crimes. Bronson plants some evidence on the creep but when that fails he dishes out his own version of street justice. Director J. Lee Thompson despite being the guy who helmed the original Cape Fear with Robert Mitchum seemed to do just an okay job when working with Bronson. They made three other films together. None of them are stand outs. There is the theme of whether criminals are being too protected by the system but the first Dirty Harry picture covered that point of view much more clearly, and entertainingly.

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Ultimately what prevents this film from being one of Bronson’s top tier flicks is the uneasy mash up of styles and the pedestrian style with which it is directed. You don’t need to have the most creative or innovative team on hand for these films, but you do need more energy and enthusiasm. We do get some scenes back at the detective squad but they lack the camaraderie and rapport that would make them come alive. Most of the cast are good actors they just look to be operating in second gear for this one. If you like Bronson it is absolutely worthy seeing. To me it feels more like a trashy slasher film with Bronson shoe horned into it rather than a true or even typical Charles Bronson film.

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Video – 1.85:1
The film looks fine here. It is not a stand out picture but that is the way it looks to have been filmed.

Audio – 1.0 DTS-HD with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is clear and easy to follow. Music and effects sit easily in the mono mix.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score and effects track, Commentary with producer Pancho Kohner, casting director John Crowther, and film historian David Del Valle, Original theatrical trailer, Radio spots

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

Blu-Ray – Good / Excellent

Movie – Good

The Jail The Woman’s Hell (2006) DVD Review

Saturday, September 26th, 2015

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Stars – Yvette Yzon, Alvin Anson, Dyane Craystan, Jim Gaines
Director – Bruno Mattei aka Vincent Dawn

Released by Severin / Intervision

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

You have to really love Bruno Mattei to see this one. He has a great many fans but his third to last film will separate the true fans from the fanatics. Just to let you know what kind of odd ball depravity you are in for when the new inmates arrive at the jungle prison camp the butch warden has a women taken out of the hot box. That’s the corrugated metal box used to keep unruly prisoners in when they misbehave. The poor girl is limp. She doesn’t even utter a sound. The warden tells the guards to tie her to the whipping post. “Twenty lashes!” One of the guards examines her and says she is dead. “Twenty Lashes!” The warden has her whipped anyway just to show the new fish the kind of trouble they’ll be in if they don’t obey. The prisoners are all dressed in drab smocks. The guards wear this blue skirt and jacket outfit that looks like they are stewardesses for a very cheap airline. They have matching blue ties and berets, too. No one within a hundred miles can act.

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Mattei then gives us in no particular order the hosing down of the prisoners, rapes, and beatings. Some of the girls are used as sex slaves at a local nightclub. There is a particularly nasty scene where a girl is tied to a bed and tortured with a live snake. “Twenty lashes!” Then a few of them make an escape and the hunt is on. A bunch of guys load up with weapons in hot pursuit. They wear hats that make them look like little boys playing cowboy. One of them hacks off pieces of a girl with a machete while she is tied to a tree. There’s also a group of cannibals with some wild paint on them. Those guys tear into some of the girls, too. It should be noted that all the guys cackle and laugh like schoolboys when one of their brethren is having his way with the girls. They leer and laugh all the time. It is all very cheap and sleazy. According to the packaging the film is presented uncut and uncensored at 98 minutes. Now back to that woman whose solution for everything seems to be, “twenty lashes!”

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There is no sense of over the top fun or tongue in cheek here. This is depravity and perversion on display. The male cast drools over every escapade. If you like your cheap and sleazy served plain on a plate then this is what you get. If you are looking to see what all the fuss is about Bruno Mattei this may not be the best place to start.

Video – Widescreen
This is a direct to video release. It looks okay, nothing more. The transfer appears faithful to the material. This is the way it is supposed to look.

Audio -
You can hear all of the badly acted and poorly timed dialogue. There appears to be some kind of music that loops over and over in the background.

Extras – Acting For Bruno: Featurette with Yvette Yzon and Alvin Anson,, Prison Inferno: Featurette with producer Giovanni Paolucci and screenwriter Antonio Tentori,
Trailer.

We learn that Bruno Mattei yells a lot. Some folks get used to it after a while and figure that’s just the way he is when he directs.

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

DVD – Fair / Good

Movie – Poor

Emperor Of The North (1973) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, September 26th, 2015

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Stars – Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Keith Carradine
Director – Robert Aldrich

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

This is a showdown. From the moment the credits roll you expect a knock down drag out no holds barred fight to the end between two heavyweight contenders. Lee Marvin vs. Ernest Borgnine. But this is not going to be governed by any rules. These guys are going to slam into each with steel bars, chains and two by fours. Robert Adlrich’s film absolutely delivers on that promise. The opening though wavers a bit in establishing just what kind of picture we are going to see. A train barrels through some beautiful Pacific western countryside. We see the guys running the train. As the train slows down to switch tracks a hobo sneaks out of the nearby bushes and hops aboard when no one is looking. Soon thereafter Borgnine discovers the guy hiding between two cars. He rains down on him with a hammer causing him to fall beneath the train and onto the tracks. We hear his screams as the wheels crush him. Then as the train hurtles on we see his bloody body, torn in two beside the tracks. The credits roll and Marty Robbins sings a pretty country song. The music is jaunty and the whole sequence now seems to evoke a Norman Rockwell slice of Americana. That transition doesn’t fit but soon Frank De Vol’s music score gets off the sentimental train and starts riding a more appropriate style that fits the gritty story. De Vol worked with director Robert Aldrich a lot (Kiss Me Deadly, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane) as well as writing songs for Cat Ballou (1965). Maybe the song was shoe-horned in by a third hand as it really feels out of place with the film that follows. Apparently Bill Medley had cut the title song but was replaced by Marty Robbins. That’s the only misstep. From here on we get a solid tale that puts two larger than life forces on a collision course.

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Set in the 1930s during the depression we get to know the hobo culture. These guys live in makeshift hobo jungles eating Mulligan Stew. They catch illegal rides on the trains always trying to evade the train conductors and local cops. To them the term bum is one of great accomplishment. Even though Aldrich portrays their lifestyle as tough as nails he shows off their brotherhood and the pride they take when one of their own A-No.-1 (Lee Marvin) reaches legendary status. He’s ridden every train he’s wanted to and is celebrated at every hobo jungle across the country. On the other side of the tracks is Shack (Ernest Borgnine). He’s the conductor on the train that runs across Oregon. No one, but no one rides Shack’s train. We’ve seen what he is capable of. Marvin naturally has to ride that train all the way to Portland. It’s a notch on his belt his simply can’t pass up. He has one of his friends write a message way up high on a water tower for all to see. “ A-No.-1 to Portland on “19” 10/24/33”. That’s Shack’s train. It reads like a departure board at a train station. Word travels all over the train and hobo communities. Many bets are taken and much cash is riding on this one.

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That’s the whole story right there. Will Marvin get to Portland on the train or will Borgnine throw him off and kill him before he gets there. There are a lot of harrowing scenes and a few that are played more humorously. There is a fun bit with Simon Oakland (The Night Stalker) as a cop following him to a hobo encampment. Marvin always seems to pick up a bird to fight with and then contribute to that night’s Mulligan stew. The other factor in the film is an obnoxious character named Cigaret played by Keith Carradine. He is a tenderfoot new on the scene with a lot to prove. He tags along with Marvin always bragging that he is a first class bum who has done any number of amazing feats. He’s proved to be full of it time and again yet he still persists in following Marvin on the ride on Shack’s train. He wants to grab some of that glory for himself but continually gives them away exposing them to more danger.

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Aldrich gives us a very powerful recreation of the times. There was an old pre-code film, Wild Boys of the Road that showed the perils of train hopping. It was made in 1933 the very year that this one is set in. The other one that comes to mind is Walter Hill’s Hard Times (1975) with that wonderful opening scene showing Charles Bronson catching a ride on a freight train into New Orleans. The trips can look romantic and full of outlaw bravado but each of these films show the dangerous side of these very rough times. Aldrich had worked with both Marvin and Borgnine earlier on The Dirty Dozen (1967). Though he can be a very artistic and experimental filmmaker he sure knew how to turn up the testosterone when he needed. The extended fight sequence at the end is a wonder to behold. It’s all done outside on moving train cars. They do not box or engage in any kind of fisticuffs. This is real brutal stuff. When Marvin reaches for an axe mounted on the outside wall you know someone is going to get cut real bad. Elbows, Knees, and head buts. This is staged with realism and a down and dirty style. Unfortunately the film had no credits listed for fight coordinator. I found these guys listed for stunt work in another source. Major league kudos to Bennie Dobbins and Chuck Hayward with Jerry Galtin doubling for Borgnine and Walter Scott doubling for Marvin. In a movie with such a major fight scene it’s a crime not to give these guys the credit they deserve.

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Emperor of the North is a solid action film. The leads are terrific. The photography is full of lovely panoramas and gritty realism. De Vol’s soundtrack once you get past that opening hiccup fits well. Genre fans will be glad to spot Matt Clark, Elisha Cook Jr. and Sid Haig among the great supporting cast. Robert Aldrich delivers a thrilling ride with just enough individuality and good old fashioned moxie to make you damn proud of A-No.-1.  Punch your ticket now and get on board.  This is classic seventies filmmaking.

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Video – 1.85:1
Lots of great colorful vistas to see as the train rolls through some beautiful country. There is also plenty of grease and dirt to be seen. All of that is done very well. There is one scene, and you’ll know it when you see it,  that either has way the hell too much fog or some smear/ smoke effect lens that is doing its job too well. But that was a shooting decision and not due to this solid transfer.

Audio – 1.0 DTS-HD with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is clear and easy to understand.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Turkey Shoot (1982) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

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Stars – Steve Railsback, Olivia Hussey, Michael Craig, Roger Ward, John Ley
Director – Brian Trenchard-Smith

Released by Severin

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Blending parts of Peter Watkins’ political film Punishment Park, the classic man hunt adventure The Most Dangerous Game, a healthy dose of the women in prison genre with some home grown Australian exploitation, Turkey Shoot is just what you’d expect. In the near future a group of subversives are rounded up and shipped off to a desolate camp in the middle of nowhere for re-education. Once warden Thatcher gives his welcoming speech it’s clear that a good time is definitely not in store for all. He states that, “’Disobedience is treason, treason is a crime, crime will be punished!” People are randomly beaten and tortured. Many have been there a long time. We are reminded that no one escapes. Steve Railsback  has been there before so he gets put in a special outdoor cage with weights pressing down on him. The man who tied to escape is chained to huge dodge balls filled with gasoline. He gets kicked around a bit before being set on fire. Yes there is the obligatory shower sequence with plenty of flesh on display.

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Meanwhile back in the warden’s office he is organizing another in a series of his manhunts. A small group of well to do politicos and rich people get to pick out their quarry from the prisoners. One of them Jennifer polishes her new cross bow practically salivating at the prospect of shooting at live flesh. Naturally the three new inmates and one troublesome veteran are nominated for the hunt. They are given passports and told if they can make it one day they will have their freedom. The next morning they will get a fair head start before they are tracked down. We leave the confines of the sadistic prison for the rest of the film’s action on the run hunt. The hunters bring along a half man, half animal creature that seems borrowed from The Island of Dr. Moreau’s M’ling character.  No harm in that.

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Blood flows freely and there are many practical special effects. A man gets pinned between a truck and a tree and nearly cut in half. A hand is hacked off with a machete before a fatal shot is fired. Said hand including the twitching trigger finger tumbles to the ground. There are some nasty arrow shots. Turkey Shoot has also been released as Escape 2000 and Blood Camp Thatcher with various scenes being eliminated or trimmed down. Severin presents the fully uncut version here at 93 minutes. Right from the beginning when a random inmate is beaten to death by the sadistic bald headed camp enforcer you can tell you are in for a pretty savage affair. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith keeps things moving and action sequences plentiful. Steve Railsback (The Stuntman, Helter Skelter) and Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet) seem to play this a bit too seriously. This is the Ozploitation genre after all. Roger Ward as the evil enforcer Ritter displays just the right over the top gleeful attitude.

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Back in the day this was the kind of film that was third on a triple bill playing on forty second Street. Three big action hits! We’d likely never really heard of it. Someone may have seen a trailer. However once the action began it was immediately welcomed. The political theme with the re-education camp agenda is merely an excuse to get to the good parts.  This is a solid example of Ozploitation. Not all of it makes sense and there are plenty of borrowed things. Some of it like naming the warden after Britain’s then Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher was clearly a cheeky poke. Turkey Shoot did not make a large impact on its initial release but for those who enjoy action exploitation this is a fun ride.

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Video – 2.35:1
This is a satisfying presentation. Don’t expect a stellar looking print. While some portions are a bit on the soft side that is very likely due to the way the film was initially shot.

Audio – 2.0 Track in English
All dialogue is clear. None of the accents were difficult to understand.

Extras – Not Quite Hollywood Extended Interviews with: Brian Trenchard Smith
Antony I. Ginnane, Steve Railsback, Lynda Stoner, Roger Ward, Gus Mercurio,  Bob McCarron. The Ozploitation Renaissance – round table discussion with director Brian Trenchard-Smith, producer Antony I. Ginnane and Ozploitation cinematographer Vincent Monton. (26 minutes). Turkey Shoot: Blood & Thunder Memories – featurette (24 minutes). Brian Trenchard-Smith Interview (10 minutes). Commentary with Brian Trenchard-Smith, Turkey Shoot Trailer, Escape 2000 Alternate Title Sequence, Blood Camp Thatcher Alternate Title Sequence

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

Blu-Ray – Good

Movie – Good